In summary

Latinas are at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, and California must do more to map out what recovery for Latinos could look like.

By Helen Torres, Special to CalMatters

Helen Torres is the CEO of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE),  htorres@latinas.org. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

As our communities grapple with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, structural inequities in our health care systems and economy have been brought to light, with Latinos and people of color bearing the brunt of these injustices.

Not only is the health of Latinos being disproportionately affected as a result of COVID-19, Latinos are also disproportionately feeling the economic instability of this crisis. 

As Congress and the California Legislature work on the next wave of aid packages, it has become increasingly clear that they must do more to include assistance for Latina workers who are on the frontlines of this crisis and who have lost their jobs and wages, regardless of their immigration status.

California has already taken steps to support communities left out by federal aid, but it must do more to reach every single Californian in need and begin to map out what recovery for Latinos could look like.

Latinas are at the frontlines of this pandemic, as one in three jobs held by women has been designated as essential, and Latinas represent large segments of industries like farming, food processing and health care. They are also overrepresented in the service, hospitality and retail industry — sectors with the highest rates of unemployment. Eighty-nine percent of Latina-owned businesses are micro businesses with no employees, which have been largely left out of assistance programs.

Future COVID-19 relief must include increased protection for essential workers, including hazard pay and increased paid sick days; grants for micro business owners; clear pathways for small businesses to be the first to benefit from the next round of Small Business Administration funding; and the expansion of tax credit eligibility to include all taxpayers, including undocumented workers. Lastly, community health centers must be protected and funded as 79% of California health center patients are people of color, and 35% of these patients are Latino nationwide. 

Latinos are facing high death rates from COVID-19, and according to a recent poll conducted by Latino Decisions, 34% of Latino households in California have already experienced a job loss, 49% have received wage cuts, while 68% reported having difficulty buying or finding necessities such as food, household supplies or medicine. Forty-six percent of Latino households have had trouble making a rent or mortgage payment because of the coronavirus and more than half are very concerned that they will not be able to keep up with basic expenses. It also found that half of the households surveyed had less than $500 in savings. 

The current challenges brought on by the pandemic are only intensified by inequities that already existed for Latinas in our state.

According to a soon to be released statewide poll of Californians conducted by Hispanas Organized for Political Equality earlier this year, only 29% of Latinas said they lived comfortably while saving compared to 43% white women, 48% of Asian American women, and 52% of white men. 

The same poll found that Latinas feel they face bias in accessing equal job opportunities and getting paid a fair wage. More than 65% of Latinas believe their race and gender are barriers to job opportunities, compared to 36% of white women. Sixty-three percent believe race is a barrier to getting paid a fair wage. 

The message these numbers send is clear, Latinas are facing this crisis from a particularly vulnerable situation. 

Lawmakers must include more targeted and comprehensive assistance to the Latino community in the next stimulus and relief legislation that addresses these multilevel challenges.

One in five people in California are Latina and 38% of the state’s population is Latino, with projections calling for sustained growth over the coming decades. The economic well-being of Latinas is inextricably tied to the economic well-being of the country and state as a whole. 

California’s road to recovery will not be possible without the Latino community. Understanding the challenges facing our community and how to best direct funds to successfully open up California is only possible if our leaders in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento take into account the plight of Latinas.

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Helen Torres is the CEO of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE),  htorres@latinas.org. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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