Latino Community Hardest Hit By Pandemic, Study Shows

Pepperdine economist Dr. Luisa Blanco

The Pepperdine University School of Public Policy has released a study confirming what was widely speculated: COVID-19 has hit the Latino community in California the hardest in just about every aspect possible.

Since March 2020, according to state data, Latinos have accounted for 56 percent of all COVID-19 cases and 46 percent of virus-related deaths in California. These disproportionate numbers are attributed to a number of factors working against the community. This includes already-existing racial and ethnic disparities such as a lack of access to health insurance, health disposition, close living conditions, higher unemployment rates and greater prevalence of jobs that do not allow for remote work. These factors created a “perfect storm” cited by the study for Latinos to experience a higher morbidity rate during the pandemic in comparison to other groups, confirming Latinos are more likely to contract and die from the virus.

The study, titled, “Financial Stress Among Latino Adults in California During COVID-19,” which took place in the fall of 2020, recruited 84 low- and moderate-income Latino adults through the Understanding America Study and Mobile Financial Diaries project. Most participants were U.S. citizens, English-speakers with health insurance and high levels of education. 

“When the lockdowns took place in March of 2020, many Latinos experienced job losses or became sole providers for their families, which significantly decreased their spending for basic needs such as food and housing and increased their debt,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Luisa Blanco, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine, explained. Hit even harder in this group were women. The study identified that Latinas, who reported having to stay home with children and family members more than males, accounted for the largest rates of unemployment. The study notes that in 2019 and 2020, on average, unemployment in California was highest among Latinas with an increase of 7.4 percentage points followed by a 7.1-percentage-point increase among African American men.

“Latinas represent the largest drop in California’s labor force as a result of the pandemic,” Blanco said. “The need to care for children and other responsibilities drew them away from work and caused their income to become disproportionately affected. Many households went without a second income, which resulted in an increase in debt and, consequently, more stress, anxiety and depression.”

Pandemic depression is a growing issue among the Latino population.

“We need a gentle approach to mental health services that will offer wellness check-ins and normalize the use of mental health services,” Blanco said about the issue. “Schools might be the best conduits since they are important institutions and provide critical support to many immigrant communities. This is the next step in COVID recovery—ensuring the wellbeing of the mental health of communities most impacted by the virus.”

Mental wellness is likely to be a continuing issue for many communities once COVID restrictions lift. The study predicted new stressors will emerge once more family members return to work. Researchers say families will face the struggle of current expenses in addition to paying debt accumulated during their unemployment. The stress will continue to run high as the pandemic and its effects on the economy linger. Among the recommendations, researchers say that a cross-sector collaboration between community organizations, schools and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is needed in order to develop effective wellness programs and eliminate stigma associated with mental health within Latino communities.

The study did not address the vaccination rate of Hispanics. In Los Angeles County, where they make up 49 percent of the population, the community has received just 28 percent of vaccine doses—though it is notable the Latino demographic skews materially younger than the white population.

Here in Malibu, demographic data about the nearly 400 local virus victims was not available from the LA County Department of Public Health.