Black and Latino families continue to take the great economic toll of the US pandemic

Los Angeles International Airport and SoFi Stadium employers spoke to potential applicants at a job fair in Inglewood, California in September. Approximately 19% of households in an NPR survey said they lost all of their savings and had none to fall back on during the COVID-19 outbreak.

PATRICK T. FALLON / AFP via Getty Images

Jonathan Eta had managed to stay afloat after losing his job as an auto detailer in Southern California at the beginning of the pandemic. But last month the emergency unemployment benefit he was relying on ran out.

“We’re basically alone now, you know?” he says.

Eta was born in Honduras and lives in the San Fernando Valley, where he is the single father of his three school-age children. The financial burden that he held off for 17 months is there. He’s now three months behind with the rent for the one-room apartment in which the four of them live, including credit cards and electricity bills.

“Man, it’s just hard to find work because you’re always worried about getting the virus. You know my children got it. My mother too. So it was really real, really rocky, you know, “says Eta.

He’s by no means the only one feeling this pressure. 38 percent of households in the United States report that they have faced serious financial problems in the past few months. That comes from a survey by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. And among black and Latin American households, more than 55% reported serious financial problems. That’s compared to 29% of white households.

Impact of the wealth gap: “I have to start over”

For Eta, the financial burden made it difficult to fall asleep and dashed his hopes of moving his family to a bigger location.

“I had made progress. Now it’s as good as over, so I have to start over. And it was just pretty tough, you know, not being sure of where we’re going” or when it will be over, “he says The little savings he had are now gone.

This lack of savings is a major contributor to the uneven financial toll of the pandemic.

Approximately 19% of households report that they lost all of their savings and have none to fall back on during the COVID-19 outbreak. The number is higher for black households: 31% said they had lost all of their savings. And among Latinos and Native American families, more than a quarter of households report having used up their savings.

“The racial wealth gap is real, and one of its most basic manifestations is a lack of cash,” said William Spriggs, professor of economics at Howard University and chief economist at the AFL-CIO.

The additional federal aid that expired last month gave people a sense of security, says Spriggs, so that they can continue to consume.

“It’s all gone,” he says. “That is, I believe, the main reason you have seen extreme stress in Latino and Black households – because without the increase in unemployment benefits and without the stimulus checks, these households simply do not have the savings to endure and resilient in downturns . “

“It’s incredibly difficult”

Melissa is a single mom based in Brooklyn. She asked us to only use her first name because she is ashamed of not being able to care for her children and does not want it to be widely known how much she suffers.

“That was hell,” she says. “I’m trying to survive without work, without help, with two young children. It’s incredibly difficult.”

When the pandemic broke out, she was working as a housekeeper. But because she looked after her children, checked on her mother in the nursing home, and looked after her aunts and uncles, she didn’t want to work directly with COVID-19 patients.

“And they didn’t want to hear that, so I had to say goodbye,” she says.

At about the same time, her wallet was stolen, along with the government ID and social security card she needed to apply for various government benefits. It was slow to get replacements for these documents as government offices received support during the pandemic.

When she was eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year, Melissa was unable to get the vaccine for health reasons. But that has increased their persistent vulnerability to the coronavirus.

With no income, she relies on an extended family, has gone into pantries and made the best use of her supply of canned goods while she is looking for a job.

“I applied to Target, Kmart, H&M – everything. I applied everywhere. And you know, it’s difficult with my two children because I still have to make sure that they go to daycare. And without a voucher … you look at six, seven hundred dollars a week at daycare. “

Glimmer of hope

She says the pandemic wiped out the life she knew before – when she was able to take care of others in her extended family instead of just scratching on her own.

But there is a glimmer of hope: The underlying health problem has finally been cured, her doctors are now saying, so she should be vaccinated against the coronavirus and be able to look for a better-paying job in the healthcare sector.

Until then, it will be her children, she says. “They wake up every day and look at me like, ‘OK, let’s go.’ You are happy and make me happy. You motivate me. “

And soon, she hopes, the whole family can return to some degree of stability.

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