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Latinos fueled the economy during the pandemic, but disparities continue to hurt the community

Workers harvest watermelons in Texas's Rio Grande Valley.
John Burnett
Workers harvest watermelons in Texas's Rio Grande Valley.

Latinos and people of color have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but they also played a big role in keeping the economy going.

That’s one of the highlights in a report titled “State of Latinos” recently published by The Concilio, a Dallas-based nonprofit that works with Latino families in areas of education, health and financial literacy.

“The latest data that came in just a couple of months ago says that the Latino GDP is $2.8 trillion, meaning if Latinos in this country were a country, we would have the fifth largest GDP in the world,” said Florencia Velasco Fortner, president and CEO of The Concilio.

That means that the Latino GDP jumped three spots from the beginning of the pandemic when it would have ranked as the eighth largest GDP.

The report notes that Latinos were 6.5 percentage points more likely to work or seek work than their non-Latino counterparts in 2020. Also in 2020, the U.S. Latino GDP contracted by 0.8% compared to a 4.4% contraction among non-Latinos.

“This notion that Latinos take more than they give. That narrative is not data driven,” Fortner said. “When you look at the contributions that we make to this economy, we give more than we take.”

Lower wages and lack of insurance

Still, a lot of disparities remain.

Latinos continue to earn lower wages than non-Hispanic white Americans and are overrepresented in lower wage jobs.

And although nearly a third of all small businesses in Texas are Latino-owned, only 7.6% of small businesses in Dallas are owned by Latinos.

In Dallas County, the percentage of Latinos who live in poverty is more than twice that of non-Hispanic white residents.

Latinos also have higher rates of uninsured people than any other racial or ethnic groups. In Texas, 27% of Latinos are more than twice as likely than non-Hispanic white residents to lack insurance.

For The Concilio, which serves a mostly Latino population, 86% of its community is uninsured.

Looking for solutions

“How can we change that? Because if you’re uninsured, you definitely don’t have the best quality health care,” Fortner said. “A lot of people wait until they’re really sick to actually go to the doctor and, in some cases, that means you end up in the emergency room.”

Fortner said The Concilio is planning to bring together different groups in the community for a summit next May to tackle this issues.

She said she doesn’t just want to talk about problems though.

“How do we start a movement where people are not just thinking and being able to articulate and talk about the Latino community in a way that’s data driven but also working towards solutions?”

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

StellaChávezisKERA’seducation reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years atThe Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35. The award-winning entry was “Yolanda’s Crossing,” a seven-partDMN series she co-wrote that reconstructs the 5,000-mile journey of a young Mexican sexual-abuse victim from a smallOaxacanvillage to Dallas. For the last two years, she worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,where she was part of the agency’s outreach efforts on the Affordable Care Act and ran the regional office’s social media efforts.