Julie Stewart and Leonel Nieto: Not everyone can weather this storm the same way

For many Utahns, the coronavirus pandemic has meant working from home, caring for kids and trying to remain sane when most outlets for fun, recreation and socializing are closed. But this reality is far from universal.

Two months ago, Dolores — a mother of three — worked six days a week cleaning office buildings and operating the cash register at a local restaurant. Her husband, Alberto, kept busy running a lawn care service and doing maintenance for the apartment building complex where they live with their adult son, who requires care due to injuries sustained in a car accident.

With their combined income, Dolores and Alberto could pay their rent, buy food and afford other necessities. When they had a little extra money, they often helped their two daughters, who work and go to school.

Today, Dolores has no cleaning job, because the buildings she used to clean are empty. Her monthly contract was terminated last month. Alberto has lost the majority of his clients, who have extra time at home and no longer need his services. Now, rather than helping their children, they must rely on small gifts from their two daughters, who both have part-time jobs at a local Target.

Dolores and Alberto worry about eviction. They worry about paying for food. And they worry that they are becoming a burden to their daughters, whose low-paying jobs daily expose them to risk of COVID-19 infection. And they are not alone. Through our advocacy work, we have met many such families who share these struggles.

Nationally, around 49% of Latinos say they or someone in their household has taken a pay cut or lost a job — or both — because of the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the Pew Research Foundation. This compares to 33% of all U.S. adults.

Latinos also stand out during this crisis because they are less likely to be able to work from home. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 16% of Latinos have jobs that allow them to telework, the least likely of any ethnic group. Because Latinos disproportionately work in restaurants, hotels and other service-sector positions, the hardest hit sectors, many Latinos face the prospect of no employment, or employment that carries a high risk and low pay. That is precisely the predicament that Dolores’ daughters face. And again, they are not alone.

As reported in The Salt Lake Tribune recently, Latinos in Utah have been the hardest hit by COVID-19. While Latinos comprise approximately 14% of the state’s population, they account for more than 34% of the state’s positive cases. One key factor, according to state epidemiologist Angela Dunn, are contagion risks connected to employment.

The federal government recently passed a $2.2 trillion aid package to help individuals and businesses who have faced economic losses due to COVID-19. This aid includes a $1,200 check to most people who have filed income taxes, and $500 for each child dependent, provided they meet income eligibility requirements. However, many Latino immigrants will not receive the stimulus disbursement because of their immigration status. Even families with U.S. citizen children may not be eligible.

This means that many taxpaying, hard-working people will receive no help. If you are lucky enough to number among the 67% of adult Americans who still have a job, please consider donating a portion — or all! — of your stimulus check to people who need it. Many local organizations — such as United Way and Comunidades Unidas — are providing direct aid to people hardest hit by the COVID-19 virus. As we weather the coronavirus pandemic, please remember that people are experiencing this storm differently. If you can safely stay at home, please remember those who cannot.

Julie Stewart

Julie Stewart is an associate professor in the Honors College at Westminster College who studies inequality, displacement and the politics of migration.

Leonel Nieto

Leonel Nieto is a business analytics manager at Salt Lake Community College.

They both serve on the board of directors of Comunidades Unidas.