CA Latinas especially hit by COVID-19 pandemic, recession

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Cynthia Lopez’s unemployment checks are not enough to support her children amid the COVID-19 health crisis.

Lopez, who lost work at a San Diego hotel earlier this year, told state lawmakers that her economic situation has forced her to choose between paying rent to keep a roof over their heads or feeding her family.

“COVID-19 came along, bringing economic disaster to our family,” the former hotel attendant and member of the hospitality labor union UNITE HERE Local 30 said. “I also had to go back to rely on my credit cards in order to make ends meet.”

She spoke at the first hearing for a special committee charged with investigating health and economic inequities confronting California’s Latinas, who tend to earn less than other Californians and who are over-represented in industries especially hard hit by the pandemic.

The informational hearing was part of the “Unseen Latinas Initiative,” led by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, that seeks to find solutions to address the opportunity and pay-wage gaps Hispanic women face in the state.

“Before we ever entered the pandemic … Latinas already were facing substantial hardships,” Gonzalez said. “This pandemic has also affected Latinas in a disproportionate way.”

In the initial months of the pandemic, about 30% of Hispanic women and 40% of undocumented Latinas in the state lost their jobs compared to 9% of white women, according to a report by Hispanas Organized For Political Equality.

Job losses for Black and Hispanic women has been higher when compared to white women’s job losses, according to a study by the Community and Labor Center at UC Merced.

“Job loss disparities persisted along lines of sex, when taking race and citizenship into account. The rate of job loss among California women ranged from 9.4% among white women to 28.9% among Latinas and 25.4% among Black women,” according to the report.

During the informational hearing, Mary J. Lopez, an economics professor at Occidental College and policy expert for the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, said the unequal job recovery for Latina Californians results “in a widening gap between Latinas and whites.”

“The combination of job loss, income loss, higher poverty rates and particular lack of wealth and emergency savings really puts many of these Latina breadwinners in economic despair,” Lopez said. “The longer Latinas continue to remain out of the labor force, the greater the danger that they will permanently remain out of the labor force.”

The leisure and hospitality industry in California, which employs many Latinas and immigrants, was among the hardest hit industries in the state. Between February and April, nearly 1 million jobs were lost in that sector, according to the California Budget & Policy Center. As of August, more than half of those jobs had not been regained.

Latinos, who represent 40% of the state population, also continue to be disproportionately impacted by COVID infections and deaths. As of Jan. 28, Latinos make up 55% of known infections and 46% of virus-related deaths, according to data from the California Department of Public Health.

This week’s hearing was the first of several expected to take place this year on various job sectors. During the committee’s second year, lawmakers say they want to come up with legislation to address the disparities Latinas face.

The next hearing will occur sometime in the spring, according to Gonzalez’s office.

“This is a bipartisan effort,” said Assemblywoman Suzette Martinez Valladares, R-Santa Clarita. “Latinas are diverse and they are business owners, they are caretakers, they are mothers, they are students.”

Help us cover the issues most important to you through The Sacramento Bee’s partnership with Report for America. Contribute now to support Kim Bojórquez’s coverage of Latino issues in California for the Capitol Bureau — and to fund new reporters.

Kim Bojórquez joined The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Bureau as a Report for America corps member in 2020. She covers Latino communities in California. Before joining The Bee, she worked for Deseret News in Salt Lake City.

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