Disparity, Depression, Disease

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, unemployment rates in the US have jumped to levels not seen since the Great Depression.

a graph of blue bars with text

Read Time: 2 minutes


Losing a job unsettles your sense of security. You may no longer be able to feed your family. You may lose health insurance. You may lose your housing. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, unemployment rates in the US have jumped to levels not seen since the Great Depression. For Latinx families, the unemployment crisis is particularly damaging.

Over 20,000 people filed for unemployment in April 2020, two months after the first US case of Covid-19. These unemployment numbers undersell the true economic impact, not measuring reduced hours or lost business revenues.

The above figure from Michael Karpman and colleagues illustrates the racial and ethnic disparity in income. In this Urban Institute Survey, 57% of Latinx families reported someone in the household had lost a job, work hours, or other work-related income because of Covid-19. In the same survey, 44% of Latinx families reported reducing their savings or increasing credit card debt to compensate for lost income; only 22% of white families did the same.

Relief remains a wish more than a promise. For the 57% of Latinx families under strain, the one-time $1,200 stimulus checks included in March’s Federal CARES Act, temporary eviction freezes, small business loans, and other half-measures do little more than delay the long-term effects of job loss: eviction, lost health insurance, food insecurity, credit card debt, and depleted savings. And Latinx families face unique barriers to economic relief. For example, unemployment benefits aren’t accessible for undocumented immigrants, even if they have been working and paying taxes, and only 9% of initial Paycheck Protection Program dollars — loans designed for at-risk small businesses — were allocated for the accommodation and food service industries, where 31% of Covid-related layoffs have occurred and Latinx workers are overrepresented.

The economic devastation of Covid-19 runs parallel to and augments the health risks of the virus. The economic impacts are particularly stark in Latinx communities, threatening housing and food security, pushing Latinx families into places (shelters, food pantries) where protection from Covid is more difficult due to crowding. Protecting the financial positions and, subsequently, the health of Latinx families necessitates a swift and revolutionary response.

Databyte via Michael Karpman, Stephen Zuckerman, Dulce Gonzalez, and Genevieve M. Kenney. “The COVID-19 Pandemic Is Straining Families’ Abilities to Afford Basic Needs.” The Urban Institute. April 2020.