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Coronavirus checks aren't coming for many in America's Latino and Asian communities

It is imperative that states take the lead to ensure no one is left out of the recovery.
Image: Los Angeles restaurant
People walk past a closed restaurant in Los Angeles on March 20, 2020.Qian Weizhong / Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images file

Coronavirus has torn through communities at unprecedented rates, stretching health care systems to their breaking points and bringing the economy to a standstill. It’s been said that the coronavirus is a great equalizer, but we now know from what little racial and ethnic data that exists, communities of color are disproportionately hurting.

It’s been said that coronavirus is a great equalizer, but we now know from what little racial and ethnic data that exists, communities of color are disproportionately hurting.

Our most vulnerable neighborhoods are falling through the cracks. And as stimulus money starts to hit bank accounts across the country, we need to focus on the many people in America who will not be getting any help as quarantine drags on. In the absence of additional federal leadership and funding, it's up to states and cities to step in and protect those most at risk from health and economic catastrophe.

California and Los Angeles County provide a case study underscoring why a one-size-fits-all approach simply will not work.

In March, the Economic Policy Institute estimated that California will lose over 1.6 million jobs by this summer, close to a quarter of which will be in the leisure, hospitality and retail sectors. Nowhere will this be more acutely felt than Los Angeles County where fashion, food and tourism are staples of our economy. And a recent report released by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, and Ong & Associates finds this could affect Latino and Asian neighborhoods the most, leaving families scrambling for solutions without the means to pay rent or put food on the table. These communities are also the ones that will likely not receive a fair share from emergency financial relief programs.

While many people have been able to socially distance while continuing to work, our research suggests that Latino and Asian workers disproportionately rely on low-wage jobs in industries where the most layoffs in the wake of COVID-19 are occurring. They are also more likely to be employed in low-wage blue-collar manufacturing jobs that have been shut down. These workers are grandparents, parents and children who live on the brink of poverty on the best of days. Now with the loss of their jobs, they are facing an uncertain future.

In Los Angeles County, our research finds that approximately 30 percent of Latino majority neighborhoods and 20 percent of Asian majority neighborhoods will face economic uncertainty versus just 3 percent of white majority neighborhoods due to the impact of COVID-19 on the service and retail sectors.

There was hope that the federal government would step up to meet the needs of these uncertain times. But the CARES Act stimulus packages don't go far enough.

Right now, to qualify for CARES unemployment benefits, you must not only work enough hours at a single place of employment but have earned enough wages to rise above the minimum threshold put in place by the state. If you’ve been unemployed for an extended period, however, and only recently secured a new job, you may not be eligible. Further, many service workers, including fast-food workers or hotel cleaners, are part time and often hold more than one job to make ends meet. If one of those jobs is deemed an essential service, many states will reduce benefits based on the wages an individual continues to earn.

Los Angeles County’s neighborhoods also demonstrate the widespread financial pain that entire communities will face by excluding undocumented immigrants from relief. Even with California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to extend relief to undocumented immigrants, the coverage and benefit levels are capped at $1,000 per household, with only enough money in the fund for about 150,000 people in a state where the undocumented population is over 2 million. And across the nation, an estimated 11.3 million undocumented immigrants could face the same predicament.

Ignoring these glaring deficiencies is not only inhumane in the midst of a crisis but shortsighted. As the two youngest and fastest-growing populations in the nation, Latinos and Asians will help determine how and when we rebound from this pandemic.

Exclusion of residents from economic recovery efforts is being driven by both lack of knowledge about the magnitude of the burdens these neighborhoods bear as well as racialized politics that have demonized far too many residents and painted them as unworthy of assistance. Either way, we have a humanitarian crisis that must be addressed.

It is imperative that states take the lead to ensure no one is left out of the recovery. This requires recovery programs focused on those who are at highest risk of not receiving federal COVID-19 relief. Further, states should create a wage replacement program for those ineligible for unemployment insurance. States must also impose accountability measures, such as collecting and analyzing data for demographic groups and neighborhoods to ensure COVID-19 relief is actually reaching those most in need.

No one is exempt from this deadly virus, but those with the least resources will carry the heaviest burden if we fail to act. Our nation, states and local communities have a stake in resolving this crisis, and our moral compass and ability to thrive in the future depends upon our leaders making the right choices now.