The Surprising Level of Material Hardship for Latinos in the ‘COVID Year’


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In 2020, COVID-19 shut down the world.

People were forced to navigate social isolation, food shortages, business closures, virtual schooling, reduced work hours, and job loss amid the pandemic.

Latino families suffered from some of the highest rates of COVID-related mortality and socioeconomic impacts, worsening Latino health inequities.

With 2020 now several years past, how bad was the pandemic for Latinos?

6 in 10 (62%) Latino households with children experienced at least one material hardship in the form of housing quality, bill-paying, food insecurity, and/or medical hardship in 2020, according to a new report from the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families that looks back at the impact of COVID-19 on Latinos.

Material Hardship in 2020 amid COVID-19

Material hardship in 2020 was more prevalent among Latino children living in households with incomes below (82%) or near (70%) the poverty line along with children with a parent born outside the US (66%), according to the report.

About half of Latino children living in households not income burdened experienced at least one hardship.

The most common hardship among households was medical at 43%.

Medical hardship is defined as having at least one parent without health insurance or unpaid medical debt.

After medical hardship, food insecurity (18%), housing quality (20%), and bill-paying hardships (18%) were the second, third, and fourth highest hardships.

What’s more, children in income-burdened households or single parent households were more likely to experience some degree of each hardship while children with parents born outside the US were more prone to medical hardships and food insecurity.

In 2020, about one quarter of Latino children lived in households that reported two or more hardships, compared to 9% with three or four and 37% with only one.

Food Insecurity in 2020 amid COVID-19

Food insecurity was measured on a few factors, including how long food lasted, balanced meal affordability, skipping or downsizing meal portions, and eating less.

18% of Latino children lived in households reporting food insecurity due to one or more of these factors, the report stated.

Of those reporting food insecurity, 19% had one parent born outside the US, compared to 15% with US-born parents.

Food Insecurity was a more prominent issue for Latino children living in income-burdened households.

About one third of Latino children living in households below the poverty line reported experience with food insecurity in 2020.

In addition, 23% of children living in households near the poverty line and 9% living in households 200% above the poverty line experienced food insecurity.

A third of children living in single parent households experienced some type of food insecurity in 2020, which is 70% than children with two parents occupying the home (15%).

Housing Quality in 2020 amid COVID-19

Those who experienced housing quality hardships were made up of households with pest problems, plumbing issues, holes in the floors, and/or cracks in the ceilings and walls.

One in five children (20%) experienced one or more of these issues in 2020, according to the report.

Children living in households with incomes below or near the poverty line faced more housing quality hardships than households with higher incomes.

Of those living with housing quality hardships, 28% came from households living below the poverty threshold and 23% came from households living near the poverty line, compared to 16% living in higher income households.

While households with parents born outside the US had no bearing on housing quality hardship, 26% of children living in single parent households struggled with housing quality, compared with 17% of two parent households.

Bill-Paying in 2020 amid COVID-19

Many families struggled with paying their bills, leading to utilities being cut off and evictions.

Overall, 18% of Latino households with children reported difficulties paying utility bills and rent or mortgage payments in 2020.

32% of children living in households below the poverty line and 22% of households near the poverty line reported having issues paying bills, compared to 11% in households with incomes 200% over the poverty line, according to the report.

Additionally, 25% of Latino children in one-parent households experienced struggles with paying bills, compared to 15% living with two parents.

Medical Hardship in 2020 amid COVID-19

Medical hardships were considered by examining households with unpaid medical debt and lack of health insurance for one or more parents.

In 2020, 43% of Latino children lived in households with unpaid medical debt or at least one parent without insurance.

Only 6% of Latino households faced both hardships, compared to 23% facing insurance insecurity and 14% with unpaid medical debt, according to the report.

Half of Latino families with at least one parent born outside the US struggled the most with medical hardships, stemming mostly from lack of insurance.

Meanwhile, 32% of Latino families reporting medical hardship in 2020 came from households with US born parents with the primary reason being unpaid medical debt.

Poverty played a large role when it comes to medical hardships for Latino families.

Over half of Latino families with incomes below the poverty line and just over half of families living near the poverty line dealt with medical hardships.

Of those reporting medical hardship, most experienced lack of insurance.

Unpaid medical debt dominated the 33% of households living with incomes 200% over the poverty threshold reporting a medical hardship.

When it comes to single versus two parent households and medical hardship, two parent households struggled more (45.5%), compared to single parent households (37%) with lack of health insurance being the primary cause.

Addressing Hardships

Even before the pandemic, Latino families struggled with socioeconomic inequities that effected their quality of life.

The pandemic only served to exacerbate issues caused by years of systemic racism and structural inequities.

During the period of economic upheaval, the federal government issued several pandemic-era policies geared toward addressing some of these financial hardships.

To address food insecurity, an emergency school meal program was rolled out to provide meals in the wake of virtual schooling, the value of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was increased, and the benefits of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) were expanded.

While many were facing evictions, the federal government created an eviction prevention program and increased rental assistance for people experiencing homelessness or at risk for it.

In addition to the program, financial assistance was given in the form of stimulus checks to help supplement the loss of income.

Those facing medical hardship, especially low-income families, could take advantage of health insurance coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) without having to renew and making it easier to maintain coverage.

However, time has run out on many of these policies, leaving many to navigate the financial fallout from the lack of assistance.

To alleviate the strain left behind by the pandemic, more assistance needs to be given through permanent policy changes, such as the recent expansions to WIC packages.

Keep Track of Inequities Where You Live

Food insecurity, housing quality, unaffordable housing, and other hardships still persist.

Stay in the know and explore inequities driving the health of your community by downloading a Salud America!Health Equity Report Card.

The Health Equity Report Card is a report tailored to your county that tells you where your community stands on important issues such as pollution, housing equality, transportation, and more!

Filled with helpful data and maps, the Health Equity Report Card can lend a helping hand for sparking community change.


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