By Jackie Fortiér
LOS ANGELES _ Working as a fast food cashier in Los Angeles, Juan Quezada spends a lot of time these days teaching customers how to wear a mask.
“They cover their mouths but not their noses,” he says. “And we’re like, ‘You gotta put your mask on right.’ ”
Quezada did not expect to impose the wearing of a mask. Six months ago he was a restaurant manager, earning $ 30 an hour, working full time, and saving for retirement. But when Los Angeles County health officials closed most restaurants in March due to the spread of the pandemic, Quezada lost her job. The only job he could find pays much less and is part-time.
“I only work three and four hours instead of eight, ten or twelve like I used to work,” he says.
Quezada doesn’t know anyone who has contracted COVID-19, but the pandemic has affected almost every aspect of his life. “I’m just depleting my savings, draining and draining and draining,” he says. “I have to sell my car. Uber is a luxury. Most of the time, he rides his bike or takes the bus to his part-time job.
Quezada is among hundreds of people who responded to a survey recently released by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Among other things, the poll, which surveyed people from July 1 to August 3, found that 71% of Latino households in Los Angeles County experienced serious financial problems during the pandemic, compared to 52% of black households in that. country and 37% white. (Latinos can be of any race or combination of races.)
Like Quezada, many burn their savings and struggle to pay for basic necessities such as food. Quezada estimates he has about six months of savings left.
In Los Angeles, more than 35% of households report serious problems paying with credit card, credit or other bills, while the same percentage say they have used up all or most of their savings. Eleven% of Angelenos surveyed said they had no savings at the start of the epidemic.
Nationally, the situation is similar. In results released in mid-September, the poll found that 72% of Latino households nationwide said they faced serious financial problems – double the share of whites who said so. And 46% of Latino households said they used up all or most of their savings during the pandemic.
Nationally, the survey found that 63% of Latinos reported a loss of household income due to reduced hours or wages, time off or job loss since the start of the pandemic.
But Latinos continued to work during the crisis, said David Hayes-Bautista, professor of medicine and public health at UCLA.
“In Washington, the idea is that you are poor because you don’t work. That’s not the problem with Latinos, ”he says. “Latinos work. But they are poor. The problem is, we don’t pay them.
Latinos have the highest labor force participation rate of any group in California. In March, when state and local authorities closed many businesses, Latinos lost jobs like everyone else. But Latinos got back to work faster.
“In April, the Latino rate (labor force participation) rebounded and in fact continued to increase slowly, while the non-Latin rate is declining,” said Hayes-Bautista. “The reward Latinos have for their great work ethic is a high rate of poverty.”
This work ethic has also contributed to a much higher rate of COVID-19. Hayes-Bautista pointed out that in California, as in some other parts of the United States, Latinos tend to do most of the jobs deemed essential, which makes them highly susceptible to the coronavirus. Latinos now account for 60% of COVID-19 cases in California, even though they make up around 40% of the population.
Not only are they infected, but there have been nearly five times as many working-age Latinos dying from the coronavirus since May.
“These are workers who are usually in their prime – maximum earning power and everything in between,” said Hayes-Bautista. “Latinos between 50 and 69 are the ones who are hit the hardest. It is quite worrying.
Nationally, according to the survey, one in four Latino households report serious problems with medical care during the pandemic.
Many of the essential jobs that Latinos are more likely to do – farm laborer or home help or other contract work, for example – lack perks. This means that some Latinos are more exposed to the coronavirus and less likely to have health insurance because they are not covered by an employer.
Others, like Mariel Alvarez, do not have health insurance due to citizenship restrictions. She lives with her parents and sisters in San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles County. Alvarez lost her sales job and employer-sponsored health insurance when the pandemic struck in March, she said. Then she got sick.
Eventually, her whole family fell ill. Alvarez had to pay out of pocket to go to a CVS clinic near her home. But after a few $ 50 visits, it got too expensive.
“I just couldn’t afford to keep going to the doctor,” she says. She suspected it was COVID-19 but was unable to get tested.
Now that she has recovered, finding a job with health insurance is crucial, as she cannot receive any state or federal aid. Alvarez is undocumented and was brought to the United States by her parents when she was a child from Bolivia. She is one of some 640,000 immigrants who have permits to work and to postpone deportation under the Deferred Action Program for the Arrivals of Children, or DACA.
“I don’t want to compromise this,” Alvarez said. “You’re not supposed to use government aid when you’re at it. You are only supposed to work, and that’s it.
The pandemic has created a great need for a job: contact tracers. So Alvarez completed a free certificate online in the hopes that it will give him an edge. It goes through the application process; if she is hired, she hopes to have benefits again.
In the meantime, she will do her best not to get sick.
(Fortier is a health reporter for KPCC and. This story is part of a partnership that includes KPCC, NPR and KHN. Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. an independent editorial program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)
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