Illustration depicting diverse faces of women in white medical face masks in a seamless pattern.

UW’s Latino Center for Health Recommends Policy Overhaul to Benefit Latinos

by Agueda Pacheco Flores

When COVID-19 started to circulate within Washington State, Monica*, 45, was in the same boat as everyone else — scared of getting sick. 

“We knew if we got sick we wouldn’t work, but then we stopped working anyways,” she says. 

Monica runs a small cleaning business with her husband. When the State barred nonessential work early on in 2020, they both went without work for four months. She turned to her community, friends, and family for help to pay for food and other bills. 

While her three children are all citizens, because of Monica’s legal status, she was not eligible for the stimulus checks citizens received throughout the pandemic. On top of that, when she did try to reach out to agencies for help, the wait times were long, they often didn’t call back, or she didn’t qualify for certain programs. 

Even though she’s presently caught up with her bills, her family is still just getting by. Monica is not alone. 

She joins an alarming amount of Latinas that either lost or left their job during the pandemic. Some say Latinas are leading the “great resignation,” which more broadly points to a shift in the way people think about work. But that perspective disregards some of the unique hardships that face Latinas and Women of Color in particular here in Washington State. 

A policy brief published late last year by the University of Washington’s Latino Center for Health (LCH) found the largest losses in employment and income were experienced by Latinas, who had higher rates of unemployment than Latinos.

“At the start of the pandemic, Latinas left the workforce at twice the rate of Latinos, and eight months after, it doubled to four times,” the brief says, adding “[e]ven compared to other women in the workforce, Latinas left jobs at a rate three times higher than white women and four times higher than Black women.”

The brief is part of a larger series of research studies that LCH and Sea Mar Community Health Centers have worked on together since spring of 2021. The series includes a look into depression and anxiety among Latinos, an explainer on vaccine hesitancy among the community, and a look into the ways Latinos in the state receive their news.

Miriana C. Duran, who coauthored the brief, says the findings of the survey illustrate what is now common knowledge.

“We’ve known for a long time how different systems and racial disparities have existed throughout many years in our history, and this brief is a reflection of that,” she says.

Duran says it’s frustrating to see how vulnerable the community was, Latinas especially, seeing as they were uniquely predisposed to being impacted by a global health crisis.

“The Latino community is such an important part of the population that keeps the state running. They feed us; a lot of Latinos are agricultural workers and to me it’s frustrating [that] they don’t have access to quality health care and security,” Duran says, adding that undocumented people also lack access to lifeline programs for food and housing.

“It must be stressful when you don’t have any support,” she says. 

The brief, titled “Economic Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Latinos in WA State and its Toll on Women,” surveyed a total of 363 Sea Mar Community Health Center patients across Washington State via mail and phone calls. More than half (53%) of the participants were married, 47% were between the ages of 31 and 50, 68% had less than or equivalent to a high school education, and 61% spoke Spanish. 

While the Latino community experienced job loss at a disproportionate rate, the largest loss was among Latinas. 

Shortly after the release of their most recent unemployment brief, LCH and Latino leaders from across the state hosted a virtual symposium, calling on the State to provide “culturally responsive policies” to help Latinos recover from the pandemic. 

Latinos are more likely to work in essential industries and therefore more likely to be exposed to COVID-19. This has proven true over the course of the pandemic as Latinos were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and faced higher infection and mortality rates. The brief points out early on that 35% of low-income Latinos were uninsured prior to the pandemic. 

Other findings show that Washington State numbers reflect national trends, where 45% of Latinas were unemployed, compared to just 34% of Latinos. Of the 363 participants surveyed, only 21% were eligible for unemployment benefits. 

Monica says she wishes there had been more support for the undocumented community, as the policy brief suggests. 

“Even though I do taxes, I don’t qualify for [unemployment benefits],” she says. “It doesn’t make a difference.”

The brief also suggests extending unemployment benefits, increasing the minimum wage, funding childcare, and enhancing rights and protections for essential workers. 

*Editors’ Note: Last name withheld for privacy concerns.

Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco Flores is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.

📸 Featured Image: Illustration by natvect/

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