To recover from the impact of COVID-19, Latino community must have equitable resources

Estimates are that one in four Latino families have someone suffering from “long COVID.” Latino employment rates have not yet returned to their pre-COVID levels. And Latino workers are still overrepresented in low-wage, essential jobs that pose the highest risk for exposure to the virus.

SHARE To recover from the impact of COVID-19, Latino community must have equitable resources
A Latino healthcare worker is vaccinated at a press conference to administer the first COVID-19 vaccinations to Latino healthcare workers at the Norwegian American Hospital in Humboldt Park, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A Latino healthcare worker is vaccinated at a press conference to administer the first COVID-19 vaccinations to Latino healthcare workers at the Norwegian American Hospital in Humboldt Park, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Any talk of a recovery from the coronavirus pandemic — such as returning to in-person classes and workplaces, social gatherings, traveling for the upcoming holidays; in other words, returning to some kind of “normal” — is largely leaving out one key sector of the population: Latinos.

Before the pandemic, Latinos were important and very significant contributors to overall economic stability and growth in Illinois, helping not only themselves and their families but the communities where they live. But unfortunately, COVID-19 was like a set of brakes stalling and slowing those contributions. The Latino community, the state of Illinois and the nation can ill afford that.

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Estimates are that one in four Latino families have someone suffering from “long COVID.” Although improving, Latino employment rates have not yet returned to their pre-COVID levels. And Latino workers are still overrepresented in low-wage, essential jobs that pose the highest risk for exposure to the virus.

These data show potentially serious economic consequences, for every community, if Latinos do not receive their fair share of benefit from the pandemic recovery. To better understand the social and economic impact of COVID on Latinos, look at a new report from The Latino Policy Forum.

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Opinion

“Long-Term Socioeconomic Consequences of COVID in the Latino Community: Creating a Path Forward” paints a vivid picture of the long-standing inequities, exposed and magnified by COVID, that pose a significant threat to the vibrant role played by Latinos in society at the local, state and national level.

Focusing on jobs, housing and education, the report lays out specific policy directions to address and alleviate the economic damage done by COVID.

It’s a call to action that recommends prioritizing the following:

● Development of long-term, safe, good-paying jobs

● Access to affordable, stable housing

● Access to mental health resources and services

● Access to disability benefits for all impacted by COVID

All of our policy directives start with the notion that every initiative, outreach, education and training opportunity must be appropriate for a particular community. That means, for instance, offering assistance in Spanish and working with local organizations that best understand the needs of local residents. This way, not only can communities be better- served, but there is an opportunity to expand on services when there is a clear understanding of community needs.

Experiencing homelessness

Additionally, all policies and initiatives must ensure the actual experiences of Latinos are taken into account. Nowhere is this need more evident than in housing.

Housing policies aimed at curbing homelessness do not consider “doubling up,” a common occurrence among Latinos that refers to individuals and families who face homelessness but have been taken in by friends and relatives. Those being taken in are, in fact, homeless save for the generosity of others. But that generosity is just a short-term Band-Aid that underestimates the real housing needs of Latinos.

If someone is sleeping in a home, they are officially not homeless — even though the residence is not theirs. So Latinos who are “doubled up” are left out when it comes to receiving services and support to help prevent or eliminate their homelessness.

Because the official definition of homelessness and the Latino experience do not align, it can be more difficult to alleviate long-term homelessness among some Latinos.

While many of our government, civic and philanthropic partners have been responsive to the COVID crisis, COVID is not done with us.

Prioritizing the policy directives in this report is a necessary initial step to ensuring that an overall social and economic recovery from COVID by the Latino community is not only attainable but equitable.

That’s possible, but only if policies come with an explicit commitment to ensuring Latinos receive their fair share of the resources they need.

Sylvia Puente is president and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum.

The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.

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