U.S. Latinas who were already facing a number of inequities experienced devastating economic losses amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, including “an astounding decline in employment,” a new report from Latino civil rights group LatinosUS has found.
“The Latina unemployment rate increased from 4.9% to 20.2% between February and April 2020, while the percent of total Latinas employed plummeted to 45.0%,” the report said. “The drop is partly due to being disproportionately employed in the leisure and hospitality industry, which experienced the steepest job losses resulting from the pandemic.”
Among them has been 65-year-old Teresa Saenz, who has been out of work since losing her housekeeping job at the Diplomat Beach Resort in southern Florida last March. Saenz had worked at the hotel for nearly two decades. “Financially, she’s barely managed,” The 19th reports. “It took about three months for Saenz to see an unemployment check after the collapse of Florida’s aged system last year. Her savings evaporated quickly.” She hasn’t been alone.
LatinosUS’ report, “Closing the Latina Wealth Gap: Building an Inclusive Economic Recovery After COVID,” found that “[m]ore than half of Latina low earners (54%) report that they spent most or all of their savings during the pandemic.” Many also reported food insecurity due to the pandemic, with 42% of Latinas who are low wage earners saying they received food donations. More than 10% reported getting their utilities shut off due to inability to pay. 19% reported having missed at least one rent or mortgage payment. For comparison, 12% of white women reported having missed at least one payment. This happened as familial responsibilities also increased for many. “Overall, more than six in 10 Latinas report that their family responsibilities increased during the pandemic, while three-quarters of Latina mothers report such an increase.”
“The outsized impact of COVID-19 on Latinas requires targeted intervention in the recovery,” the report continued. In a statement, UnidosUS said that “[f]or the nearly 30 million Latinas living in the U.S., the road to complete financial recovery will be much more challenging because of pre-pandemic structural inequalities. Lower wages and fewer benefits at work coupled with less homeownership and more family responsibilities like childcare contribute to the lopsided wealth gap Latinas are experiencing.”
UnidosUS President Janet Murguía said that “[t]he recently enacted American Rescue Plan is a big step forward in repairing the damage done to these workers. As this report shows, President Biden’s administration must prioritize these vulnerable essential workers in ongoing relief efforts and must include these workers in efforts to rebuild the nation stronger than before. Investment in Latina workers is key to addressing long-standing racial and ethnic economic inequality in the country.”
Congressional leaders have also called on the Biden administration to prioritize the inclusion of their immigration bill in the president’s upcoming infrastructure package. That legislation would legalize millions of undocumented essential workers. These workers were excluded from federal relief due to their immigration status even as they’ve served in vital roles amid the pandemic. While mixed-status families were included in this year’s American Rescue Plan, they were excluded from survival checks last year.
“However, 75 percent of Latinas say they still believe in the American Dream, with those born outside of the U.S. being more likely (82 percent) to believe in it than those born here in the U.S. (67 percent),” UnidosUS said. Murguía said that ”[e]ven though Latinas have faced the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a testament to their resilience that they are still optimistic about the future.”
That includes Saenz, who has been campaigning to reopen the resort as she’s taken up housecleaning jobs here and there. But they’re just not enough to get by. She tells The 19th she desperately wants to get back to work, but that she suspects her age is a hinderance to prospective employers. “I am a Latina fighter—a warrior—who faces my problems so that I can get ahead,” she said in the report. “But at the same time, people need some support so they don’t feel defeated. And what’s that support? My work. I want to go back to work.”