COVID-19 hits Latino, Black and Native American wallets harder

A new poll found minority households reported disproportionately more financial problems, housing insecurity than whites

Raheem Austin gives Lita Griffin a cut at Mason's Barber Shop in May, shortly after Washington, D.C. lifted a stay-at-home order placed amid the pandemic.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Raheem Austin gives Lita Griffin a cut at Mason's Barber Shop in May, shortly after Washington, D.C. lifted a stay-at-home order placed amid the pandemic. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 16, 2020 at 9:21am

The coronavirus pandemic has hit people of color harder than white households, causing higher rates of infection, hospitalization, death and, as a new survey has found, financial despair.

Black, Latino and Native American households reported disproportionately high income loss, financial problems and housing insecurity in a poll released Wednesday by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

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The poll showed 72 percent of Latino households, 60 percent of Black households and 55 percent of Native American households reported a serious financial problem like using up all of their savings, food insecurity and an inability to pay for housing. For comparison, only 36 percent of white households said they have faced the same challenges since the pandemic’s start.

“What this survey shows is that the disparate impact is not restricted to health. The economic toll on households of color has been extreme,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation CEO Richard Besser said. “This is despite hundreds of billions of dollars of federal assistance that has been directed at trying to reduce the economic hold this pandemic has had on people across the country.”

Latinos also reported higher employment losses, with 63 percent saying they were furloughed, fired or had their hours cut, compared to 46 percent of all respondents.

The economic numbers for Latinos, Black Americans and Native Americans matches the inordinate health toll the pandemic has taken on those groups. An August report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found people of color suffered far greater rates of coronavirus infection, hospitalization and death than whites. The Latino case rate ratio was 2.8 times higher and the hospitalization rate was 4.8 times higher than whites. The infection rate among Black people was 2.6 times higher, and the hospitalization and death rates were 4.7 and 2.1 times higher, respectively.

“This public health crisis points to the strong connection between income and wealth and health, and it’s going to be really important” to future public health policy, Besser said.

Congress has not passed legislation to address the fallout from the pandemic since the spring. Democratic leaders have butted heads with their Republican counterparts and the White House over the size and scope of a package, resulting in a monthslong stalemate.

In the meantime, enhanced unemployment benefits expired, the CDC issued a nationwide eviction moratorium and President Donald Trump delayed enforcement of payroll tax payments.

Besser, a former acting director of the CDC, urged Congress to pass additional economic aid immediately, saying that the agency’s unprecedented moves would likely face strong legal challenges.

“I worked at CDC for 13 years,” he said. “And I had absolutely no idea that we had the ability to put in eviction protection.”

Regardless of the eviction ban’s legality, Besser said the lack of additional economic aid meant it was only delaying the inevitable and could lead to a wave of evictions after the moratorium ends on Dec. 31.

“There would be nothing more cruel than to be going into the winter and seeing millions of Americans facing the prospect of being homeless,” he said.

Essential workers

Black and Latino Americans’ harsher health and financial experiences during the pandemic reflect their economic station when the contagion first arrived on U.S. shores. Hispanic and Black people are more likely to work jobs deemed essential during the pandemic but that couldn’t be performed remotely, exposing workers to greater infection risks, according to a recent paper from economists at Cornell University and Montana State University.

While Black and Hispanic employees make up 11 and 17 percent respectively of all workers, they were 13 and 22 percent of all essential workers, the study found. Compared to the general workforce, “frontline workers are a less educated, lower wage group, with a higher representation of men, disadvantaged minorities, especially Hispanics, and immigrants, on average,” the authors wrote.

Those figures track the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ August jobs report, which showed that the Black and Latino populations suffered sharper job losses and a slower bounce back from the COVID-19 lockdowns in the spring. Thirteen percent of Black workers and 10.5 percent of Latinos were unemployed, compared to just 7.3 percent of whites.

The poll found that Latinos were far less likely than other races to work from home: Only 30 percent of Latino respondents said someone in their household worked from home, compared to 50 percent overall.

The survey tracks with the findings of other polls like the Household Pulse Survey from the Census Bureau showing a disproportionate economic impact on different minority groups. Black and Hispanic or Latino Americans have reported higher levels of income loss, food and housing insecurity than their white counterparts every week since the Pulse surveys began in April.

The latest data, covering the last two weeks of August, showed about 56 percent of Hispanic or Latino households and 52 percent of Black households have lost income since March. That is higher than the 40 percent of white households that reported losing income.

Over the next month, about 37 percent of Hispanic or Latino households and 33 percent of Black households expect to lose income, compared with 20 percent of white households.

The poll was conducted between July 1 and Aug. 3, covering a time before federal economic measures like the extra $600-a-week in unemployment benefits stopped supporting households at the end of July.

“If we were to repeat this survey right now — or in another month — the numbers would look far worse than this,” Besser said.