Coronavirus exposes the life-and-death inequalities faced by Latinos

Coronavirus exposes the life-and-death inequalities faced by Latinos
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The worst pandemic suffered by the United States – and the world – in a century has put in stark relief many of the social ills that plague our society, disproportionately affecting communities of color.

Most recently, we have seen coverage of how African Americans suffer with significantly higher rates of death from the coronavirus because of pre-existing conditions. Less coverage has been devoted to the unique and disproportionate ways in which Latinos have suffered.

Consider the tin-eared reaction of Surgeon General Jerome Adams who, while discussing these disproportionate effects during a White House briefing, seemed to some to suggest that the communities’ behavior is to blame, while overlooking more than two centuries of structural inequities and institutional racism that exist in the country.

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It’s time to bring to light the pain from which the Latino community is suffering, mostly in silence and in the shadows.

Let’s start with some devastating facts. A newly-released study by the polling firm Latino Decisions shows that more than 65 percent of Latinos have lost their jobs or suffered a significant reduction in their incomes as a result of the coronavirus. And 29 percent reported that a "small business they own has either substantially reduced revenue or gone out of business altogether."

According to the report, this amounts to a “devastating” loss that will be difficult to recoup.

Previous polls have shown that Latinos prioritize the economy, jobs and health care. But this poll found that 62 percent of Latinos said their top priority is for the U.S. government to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the poll, job losses have caused 20 percent of Latinos to lose their employer-provided health insurance, and 63 percent are worried it could happen to someone else in their household, while many Latinos don’t count on having insurance at all.

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What worries many Latinos is that thousands of them have been deemed "essential" employees, but the dangers are only increasing in the jobs they work. Thirty-six percent of Latinos report still going to work every day in jobs that require them to work in fields, restaurants or medical facilities.  

In a poignant New York Times op-ed, immigrant activist Alma Patti Tzalain points out the irony and hypocrisy of deeming Latinos “essential” workers while not offering them personal protective equipment to work in the fields or in crowded processing plants that have not closed during the crisis.   

She further argues that employers are telling workers to stay home if they feel ill but are not offering sick pay or any other remedy that would allow the workers to earn a living while they recover at home. 

These immigrant workers are the ones ensuring that Americans can put food on the table while they themselves may have difficulty feeding their children. 

Of course, undocumented workers have little legal recourse, even though they are the ones we count on to feed us. In making this point, Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroSteyer endorses Markey in Massachusetts Senate primary Hispanic Caucus formally endorses George Floyd Justice in Policing Act Technical difficulties mar several remote House hearings MORE (D-Texas) said: “Undocumented workers are receiving nothing because they use ETIN numbers instead of Social Security numbers, yet they contribute $14 billion to our economy.” 

Besides losing their savings, half of all Latino households in the Latino Decisions survey said they had less than $500 saved for emergencies.

These are challenging times for most Americans. But if we are going to continue to count on the hard labor of Latinos, including undocumented immigrants, to keep our grocery aisles stocked, we should recognize their work and honor their commitment to keep us fed by at least sending them into the fields and processing plants with adequate protective gear to keep them safe.

We all need to wake up to the harsh economic realities that decades of inequality have caused. The Trump administration needs to recognize these facts and address them directly and respectfully. 

We must also include Latinos and all undocumented workers in any economic recovery remedies because, without them, there will be no economy left to recover.

Maria Cardona is a longtime Democratic strategist and co-chair of the Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws committee for the party's 2020 convention. She is a principal at Dewey Square Group, a Washington-based political consulting agency, and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.