Black and Latino families bear the brunt of the economic toll of the pandemic: NPR

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Even with government assistance and other efforts, more than 55% of black and Latino households reported serious financial problems, compared to 29% of white households.



SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The pandemic is having an uneven economic impact on Americans. Black and Latino families have had the greatest successes. As NPR’s Laurel Wamsley reports, many have seen their hard-earned financial progress swept away.

LAUREL WAMSLEY, BYLINE: Jonathan Eta (ph) had managed to keep his head above water after losing his job as an auto detailer at the start of the pandemic. But last month the emergency unemployment benefits he was relying on expired.

JONATHAN ETA: Basically now we’re alone, you know?

WAMSLEY: Eta lives in Los Angeles, where he is a single father of three school-aged children. The financial pressure he had avoided for 17 months arrived. He’s now three months behind on the rent for their one-bedroom apartment, and he’s also behind on his credit cards and electric bill.

ETA: Man, it’s just hard to find work, constantly worried about catching the virus. You know, my kids caught it – so did my mom. So it’s been really really, really rocky, you know. I don’t know which direction to go.

WAMSLEY: He’s far from the only one feeling that pressure. Thirty-eight percent of households across the country say they have faced serious financial problems in the past few months. That’s according to a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. But among black and Latino households, more than 55% reported serious financial problems. This is to be compared with 29% of white households.

For Eta, the financial pressure made it difficult to sleep and hampered her hopes of moving her family to a bigger place.

ETA: I had some sort of progress going on. Now that it’s pretty much over, I have to start all over again. And it’s just been kind of hard, you know, not having a guarantee of where we’re going or when it’s going to end. Any progress is frustrating enough.

WAMSLEY: The little savings he had are now gone. And it’s a major factor in the uneven financial toll of the pandemic.

WILLIAM SPRIGGS: The racial wealth gap is real, and one of its most fundamental manifestations is not having cash.

WAMSLEY: William Spriggs is professor of economics at Howard University and chief economist at the AFL-CIO. The additional federal aid that expired last month has given people a sense of security, Spriggs says, so they can continue to use.

SPRIGGS: It’s all gone. And so that’s, I think, the #1 reason why you’ve seen particular stress in Latino and black households because without the unemployment check going up, without the stimulus checks still being there, those households simply do not have the savings to withstand and be resilient during downturns.

MELISSA: It’s been hell. I will be frank. Excuse my language. But trying to survive without work, without help, with two young children, is incredibly hard.

WAMSLEY: Melissa is a single mother in Brooklyn. She asked that we only use her first name. She says she is ashamed of not being able to provide for her children. When the pandemic started, she was working as a home health aide. But because she cared for her children, took care of her aunts and uncles, and watched her mother in a nursing home, she didn’t want to work directly with COVID patients.

MELISSA: And they didn’t want to hear that. So I was forced to take leave.

WAMSLEY: Around the same time, her wallet was stolen and with it the ID card and social security card she needed to apply for various government aids. And getting replacements has been slow. With no income, she relied on her extended family and made the most of her pantry while she searched for a job.

MELISSA: I applied to Target, Kmart, H&M, everything. I applied everywhere. And it’s difficult with my two children because I have to make sure they go to daycare. And without a voucher, you have $6-700 in daycare a week.

WAMSLEY: She says the pandemic has erased the life she once knew, when she could care for others instead of just fending for herself. But there are glimmers of hope. The blood clots she had are gone, so she can get vaccinated and look for a better paying health job. Until then, she says, her children are what keep her going.

MELISSA: They wake up every day and look at me like, OK, let’s go. They are happy, and they help me to be happy. They motivate me.

WAMSLEY: And soon, she hopes, they’ll all find some stability.

Laurel Wamsley, NPR News.

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