Latinos hardest hit by coronavirus job losses, with a staggering 18.9% unemployed

The news is a brutal blow for Latinos who had clawed their way back from the gut punch of the Great Recession, when they lost 66 percent of their household wealth.
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A masked pedestrian walks past a line of people in Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood in New York City on May 5, 2020.Bebeto Matthews / AP

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By Suzanne Gamboa

Latinos suffered staggering job losses and have been the hardest hit by the economic thrashing dealt by the coronavirus pandemic, which blew a hole in the employment gap between Hispanics and white Americans, according to the latest employment data.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that the unemployment rate for Latinos rose to 18.9 percent, amounting to an estimated more than 4 million — or nearly 1 in 5 — Latinos who are unemployed.

The rate is higher than any other racial or ethnic group surveyed by the department. Unemployment rates rose to 16.7 percent for blacks, 14.5 percent for Asians and 14.2 percent for whites.

The news is a brutal blow for Latinos whose unemployment numbers had been trending downward since hitting about 13 percent in early 2010 amid the Great Recession.

Latino unemployment was 4.4 percent in February, and in recent years the group had closed its unemployment gap with whites to within 1 to 2 percent.

Volunteers help the San Antonio Food Bank distribute food to more that 2,000 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, on April 17, 2020.Eric Gay / AP file

“The official unemployment numbers are reminiscent of the Great Depression and confirm what we see in our communities: lines of cars, that look like a parking lot, waiting at the local food bank,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which has been aggressively pressing for assistance for hard-hit communities.

“We need urgent action from Congress to keep more workers employed and immediate economic assistance for all Americans beyond a one-time stimulus check," he said.

For Latinos, the economic calamity puts the brakes on what has been an arduous crawl back up from the economic gut punch they took in the Great Recession, when they lost 66 percent of their household wealth. Friday's job losses, at 20.5 million Americans, wiped out gains made nationwide after that time.

Fears of losing it all

Jennifer Proaño, a Florida restaurant manager-server, is among those who lost her job and had to apply for unemployment.

She had finally built up savings seven months ago and bought a one-bedroom Miami Beach apartment. Now jobless because of the coronavirus, she fears her slice of prosperity may disappear.

“It meant the whole world to me to have my own little place in this world, something I can own by myself, working hard as I do, saving my money,” Proaño said.

For now, she and a friend are sharing the apartment and her friend helps with expenses. She has some emergency savings and has started to dip into them.

Jennifer Proano, 46, lost her job as a restaurant manager-server when Florida shuttered its non-essential businesses.Courtesy Jennifer Proano

Her former employers have been providing helpful advice on how to delay her mortgage payment for three months, how to get credit on her car insurance because she’s no longer driving her car to work and back, and providing her and her former co-workers with meals.

She has deposited her stimulus check — “a big help”, she said. For her dog, she’s picked up dog food that the local fire department has been giving away to help people with pets.

But she had to file for unemployment and has received two checks. The first arrived three weeks after she applied, so she considers herself “one of the lucky ones,” in light of Florida’s beleaguered unemployment system.

“The money goes fast because you have all these bills to pay,” she said.

A big blow to Latino wealth

Experts have projected that without significant assistance, the coronavirus is likely to decimate Latino gains in income that had finally put them back at a slightly better financial position than where they had been when Hispanics got hammered by the housing crisis in 2007.

Many Latinos have lost jobs as the coronavirus forced businesses to shutter. Just 16 percent of Latinos were in jobs that allowed them to work from home, compared to 31.4 percent of non-Latinos, according to an Economic Policy Institute study released in March, about the time when states were beginning to restrict larger gatherings of people and close nonessential businesses.

UnidosUS, a Latino advocacy group, said the numbers likely underestimate joblessness among Latinos. Latinos are less likely to seek and receive unemployment benefits, UnidosUS noted in its Latino job report released Friday.

Also, the government counts part-time workers as employed, even if workers want to work full-time. Before the coronavirus crisis, Latinos were more likely to be underemployed and an April Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research Poll showed 61 percent of Latinos had lost household income because of coronavirus, the UnidosUS report stated.

Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, added that the numbers may also leave out people in families that are not applying for benefits because they have family members with mixed immigration status. Some legal residents fear that applying for benefits could hurt their chances of getting citizenship because of Trump administration policies, he said.

Rep. Castro said Latino workers have been hit especially hard because many of them work in construction, hospitality and service industries, which have been shuttered by the coronavirus.

President Donald Trump had seized on the pre-coronavirus low Latino unemployment rates as part of his campaign effort to improve his support among Hispanics, the largest nonwhite voting bloc this election year.

Trump spokesman Ken Farnaso said the president's economic record is "more salient now" and Americans will look to him to restore the economy to greatness. He said former vice president Joe Biden, the apparent Democratic presidential nominee, would raise taxes and "burden job creators with strangling regulations under the Green New Deal."

Biden said in prepared remarks for an address Friday afternoon that although Trump has crowed about the great economy, "when the crisis hit, it became clear who that economy has been built to serve. Not workers. Not the middle class. Not families."

For Proaño, her biggest worry is going through her last month of savings and available resources. “That’s when I’ll freak out” and if necessary, use her credit cards.

“That’s going to put me in debt. At the same time, I’m not going to lose my property," she vows.

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