On the anniversary of the COVID-19 shutdown, President Biden in his speech noted COVID-19 has had a significant impact on everyone’s lives and that “while it was different for everyone, we all lost something.” We must acknowledge that Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) have larger losses, in comparison to Whites. The losses that BIPOC, and especially Latinos, have experienced during COVID-19 have important implications for stress, and consequently mental health outcomes. We must recognize the major stressors Latino families are facing under COVID-19 so that we can address the health needs of this group as we move forward.
There are stark racial, ethnic, and gender disparities when it comes to the impacts of COVID-19 on economic and health outcomes. BIPOC communities have experienced larger increases in the unemployment rate and decreases in the labor force participation, in comparison to Whites (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Furthermore, BIPOC are more likely to contract COVID-19 and have higher COVID-19 death rates (Center for Disease Control). Life expectancy reductions due to COVID-19 are much larger for Black and Latino communities in comparison to Whites (Andrasfay & Goldman, 2020).
In California, Latinos, who are 39% of the total population of the state, have experienced larger losses with COVID-19, in comparison to other groups. Latinos, the group with the most cases and deaths, represent 56% of all COVID-19 cases and 46% of all COVID-19 deaths (according to recent data from the Government of California). When comparing average labor force participation and unemployment rates in 2019 and 2020 in California, the drop in the labor force participation is much higher for Latinos and the increase in unemployment is also higher for this group in comparison to Whites.
The intersectionality of race, ethnicity, and gender is also important to consider during the pandemic in California, where Latinas showed the largest drop in the labor force participation rate during 2020, in comparison to 2019. The increase on average unemployment in California between 2019 and 2020 is the highest for Latinas, with an increase of 7.4 percentage points, followed by African American men with an increase of 7.1 percentage points.
To better understand the challenges Latino families face during COVID-19, I and a group of students at Pepperdine University conducted the study Financial Stress among Latino Adults in California during COVID-19. We collected quantitative and qualitative data in November 2020. We recruited 84 Low and Moderate income Latino adults in California through the internet panel Understanding America Study (UAS), and among those who participated in the Mobile Financial Diaries (MFD) project conducted in 2018-2019. When we compare quantitative measures related to financial stress before and during COVID-19, we do not find significant differences. Interestingly, the qualitative data tells a different story; Latinos are experiencing high levels of financial stress due to labor market conditions and having a higher propensity to contract COVID-19.
A common theme among participants was the financial stress of being the sole provider for the household: “Last month I was very stressed because I became the main source of income for my household. I have started a part-time job in direct sales that I feel very positive about and will continue to pursue. I felt depressed because I feel like the mental state of my partner and I are declining.”
Future financial stability and uncertainty were also pressing concerns: “I have not been able to work since March due to losing my job with the pandemic. I am stressed out because I do not know when I will be able to find work again. I am worried about not being able to pay my bills when EDD cuts me off.”
Latinas were also more likely to take the responsibility of supervising distance learning for their children in our study: “When the lockdown began I was forced to stay at home tutoring my children who were unable to attend school while my partner worked. So for about 3 months we relied on his income plus our savings to cover some (not much) of our expenses.”
As we move forward to address the losses experienced during COVID-19, we must provide mental health services that can help the Latino community to manage the high stress they are experiencing due to COVID-19. Given that Latino adults are less likely to seek mental health services, health policymakers must devise programs that are tailored and culturally appropriate for this group. Creative approaches to stress management must be developed if we want to support Latino families during this difficult time. Working on this issue cannot wait; Latino families have endured so much hardship and have lost a lot more than other groups during the pandemic.
The views represented in this post are those of the author, not of Interdisciplinary Research Leaders or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.