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Coronavirus can affect anyone.
But experts warn that COVID-19 will cause more suffering among U.S. Black and Latino workers, due to societal inequities shaped by structural racism and low-paying jobs with no chance of telework.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic has ended in this country, we will see an unequal distribution of infections and deaths along the intersecting lines of race and class,” wrote labor historian Christopher Hayes in the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
UPDATE 4/23/20: 26 million people have filed jobless claims in the past five weeks, NBC News reports.
Why is this?
Coronavirus Compounded: Income Inequities among Latino Workers
These statistics show a glimpse of how much Latino workers earn:
- 1 in 3 Latinos live in poverty.
- 1 in 2 Latino families are low-income.
- Nearly 60% of Latinos earn less than $15/hour (vs. 39% of full-time workers overall).
In Hayes’ New Jersey, Latinos bring in 60% of what white families earn.
“The economic barriers erected by a legacy of structural discrimination, including our state’s highly segregated schools, put our poorest residents at the highest risk of catching the virus,” Hayes wrote.
Coronavirus Compounded: Low-Wage Jobs and Little Telework for Latino Workers
“Everyone is working from home due to coronavirus.”
That is a myth. And it discredits the dilemma facing Americans who have no option for telework. Like first responders or farmworkers in rural areas.
In fact, less than 30% of all U.S. workers can work from home.
Only 16.2% of Latino Americans can work from home—the far lowest percentage among African Americans (19.7%), White Americans (30%), and Asian Americans (37%), says the Economic Policy Institute.
Low-wage workers also have the least flexibility in their jobs.
“These workers who cannot work from home—particularly those in retail and hospitality—also find their jobs at risk as social distancing keeps people from engaging in their normal activities,” according to the report.
That leaves Latino workers with a scary choice.
“A majority of Americans — at least those who still have jobs during the pandemic — must weigh whether to go to work and risk being infected by the virus, or forego pay,” writes Chris Moody for Vice. “For those living paycheck to paycheck or without access to paid sick leave, it’s an almost impossible decision.”
Coronavirus Compounded: Access to Child Care for Latino Workers Who Are Parents
Latino workers are disproportionately represented in jobs with irregular work schedules, last-minute shift changes, and volatile work hours. Less than 30% of Latino workers are eligible for and able to afford taking unpaid family or sick leave, according to a Salud America! research review.
In addition, only 34.9% of parents in households with children can telework.
“This means that not only are their jobs vulnerable, but the care of their children may be as well,” according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Before now, far fewer Latino children (52%) enroll in early care and education (ECE) centers than their white peers (63%). Latino families face barriers to use of ECE centers, such as limited availability, high cost, and poor outreach.
Now, as schools close, Latinos face another tough choice.
“Parents are faced with impossible choices and are left weaving together a patchwork of care or making career sacrifices that affect their families’ economic security,” according to a report.
Recommendations to Address Systemic Inequities amid Coronavirus
In the short term, two new federal measures will help.
A $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill aims to bail out corporations and families.
The Family First Coronavirus Reponse Act will provide some paid sick leave and family/child care leave. It also covers nutrition aid, unemployment health insurance, and free COVID-19 testing.
But experts say it’s not enough.
“There are substantial loopholes in the paid sick coverage provided, and it will do little to help the estimated 3 million workers, including 900,000 leisure and hospitality workers, who will lose their jobs by this summer,” says the Economic Policy Institute.
Lawmakers can do better to protect people of color, says the Center for American Progress:
- Ensure paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave for all workers.
- Secure more translation services for hospitals and health clinics.
- Ensure low-income individuals have access to no-cost testing and treatment related to COVID-19.
- Translate official coronavirus-related publications for single-language minority groups. (Here’s a few of our favorite Spanish-language resources!)
- Send cash directly to households.
Even then, underlying inequities will remain. These are the ones driven by structural racism, school segregation, and access to equitable housing, transportation, and green spaces.
“To prevent such occurrences from disproportionately harming people of color, lawmakers must consider serious equity implications highlighted by the civil rights community and work to dismantle structural racism in American economic, housing, and health care systems,” writes the Center for American Progress. “By doing so, they will ensure that America is better able to equitably respond to unexpected emergencies in the future.”
Hayes believes action can right “centuries-old wrongs.”
“Perhaps, when the pandemic ends, our leaders will take a closer look at how to reduce these inequities before the next crisis strikes,” he writes.
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