The COVID-19 pandemic has not only devastated the U.S. economy, healthcare system and educational way of learning, it has also exposed or exasperated the racial and class inequalities in the formal economy (and informal economy—also known as the unregulated economy, among other terms). While it’s true that the pandemic has impacted all citizens and residents, it’s especially true that Latinas and Latinos —along with other racialized groups— continue to contract and die from COVID-19 at higher rates compared to Whites. On December 10, 2020, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on their official website that “…racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately represented among COVID-19 cases. The percent of cases for racial and ethnic minority groups are higher than the percent of these populations within the total U.S. population. Comparing the percent of cases and the percent of the total U.S. population by race and ethnicity provides an indication of disparities.”
In the state of California, Latinas and Latinos comprise about 40 percent of the population in 2019, representing a significant part of its low-wage and service workforce. This includes the formal and informal economy. According to the state’s official COVID-19 website, “COVID-19 disproportionately affects California’s low income, Latino, Black, and Pacific Islander communities, as well as essential workers such as those in health care, grocery, and cleaning services.”
In terms of the County of Los Angeles, where Latinas and Latinos represent the largest racialized/ethnic group (48.6% in 2019), similar to the City of Los Angeles (48.5% in 2019), we’ve been hit hard with COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. According to an article by NBC News, Latinas and Latinos are dying at higher rates from COVID-19, when compared to Whites: “Death rates among Latinos in L.A. are twice as high as in the rest of the population, according to Los Angeles County public health officials. And Latinos, who are about half of all county residents, are hospitalized three times more often than white people.”
Given the disproportionate health and economic toll COVID-19 has had on Latinas and Latinos —especially those who toil in the informal economy, which has yet to be accurately measured— our communities demand immediate relief. While not comprehensive, I propose the following recommendations (non-ranked), where much more needs to be done as we recover from this brutal pandemic (which the previous Trump Administration lied about and mismanaged) and enter a new normal reality:
1. PROVIDE DIRECT AID TO INFORMAL WORKERS AND PETTY ENTREPRENEURS
Government should provide direct financial aid to workers and petty-entrepreneurs in the informal economy. While there have been two rounds of stimulus checks at the federal level to qualified individuals and families impacted by COVID-19 in addition to the recently passed/signed American Rescue Plan (without a single Republican vote in Congress), these checks, along with the business loans (i.e., Paycheck Protection Program or PPP), only go to those in the formal economy or regulated economy (e.g., filed taxes, established businesses). Unfortunately, many individuals who toil in the informal economy don’t file taxes, while still contributing to the economy. In the case of the undocumented (or human beings on the move), by assigning them with an Employer Identification Number (EIN), etc., the government can (and should) also help los de abajo / those on the bottom.
2. PROVIDE MICROLOANS TO PETTY ENTREPRENEURS
The idea of microloans in the informal economy is not unique to the United States. Internationally, many non-government organizations (NGOs) and for-profit groups have been successful for years in helping individuals and families in need, particularly in underdeveloped and developing countries. By providing individuals/ and families with small loans at 0% percent interest rates under affordable regular payment plans, non-profit organizations, for-profit groups and government agencies in the U.S. can make a major impact on the lives of Latinas and Latinos who depend on the informal economy to survive (and sometimes thrive). In fact, Inclusive Action for the People —an economic development organization in Los Angeles— recently initiated a microloan program called the Semi’a Fund.
3. ADOPT THE PROMOTORES MODEL
The promotores model (better known as promotoras) consists of a brilliant, grassroots idea/practice to enlist organic community leaders and trusted individuals to share vital information among community members. This includes navigating the health care system and promoting good health. In the U.S., we see Latinas, in particular, taking a leading role in these grassroots efforts. Recently, the County of Los Angeles, under the leadership of Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, has expanded the promotora model to deal with COVID-19. Given the lack of trust underserved communities have towards the government based on White America’s dark history of neglect, racism and marginalization, it’s imperative that we rely on and cultivate the existing organic leadership found in our communities to share important and reliable information and resources. More specifically, this is one way we can get more Latinas and Latinos vaccinated.
4. MASSIVE PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS IN OUR COMMUNITIES
There’s a desperate need for a massive educational campaign in Spanish and English on the importance of being vaccinated, along with wearing masks, practicing social distancing and washing hands. This includes relying on trusted community leaders to share medical information in a way that our people can understand via photos, music and online videos. This should also be done through their trusted sources: churches, schools, non-profit organizations, hair salons, barbers, taco stands, restaurants, bars and sporting events. This also includes Spanish-language media outlets (e.g., television, radio, print) and social media (e.g., Facebook, WhatsApp), etc. Also, popular individuals and groups in our communities, like Mexico’s Los Tigres del Norte—Grammy Award-winning norteño group—can make a big difference in educating our people on doing the right things when it comes to COVID-19. Los Tigres, for instance, recently released a song on COVID-19 and conducted a PSA on the importance of la vacuna.
In short, now that we have three available and reliable vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson), we must prioritize the most vulnerable groups among us.
¡Vacuna Sí!¡COVID No!
Dr. Álvaro Huerta holds a joint faculty appointment in Urban & Region Planning and Ethnic & Women’s Studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He’s the author of the award-winning book, Defending Latina/o Immigrant Communities: The Xenophobic Era of Trump and Beyond (2019). As a scholar-activist, he holds a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from UC Berkeley, along with an M.A. in Urban Planning and a B.A. in History from UCLA.