Latinos in the COVID-19 Economy

The economic downturn is eroding recent progress by Latino workers.

By Anthony P. Carnevale and Artem Gulish

This blog post is part of a series tracking how COVID-19 is affecting American workers. Previous posts focused on which demographic groups have been most affected economically by COVID-19 and the impact of the COVID-19 economy on Black workers.

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, Latinos were particularly vulnerable to the economic downturn, especially in some populous states like Michigan, New York, and New Jersey. In part, this was because Latinos were less likely to have the higher levels of educational attainment and higher earnings that offered workers more protection from job loss in the early stages of the COVID-19 recession. Their relative economic insecurity wasn’t for lack of aspiration or hard work: Latinos have made significant progress in closing gaps in higher education. At the same time, this progress was limited by an unequal higher education system that disproportionately channels them into under-resourced community colleges and open-access universities.

As the COVID-19 recession has unfolded, Latino employment has been the most negatively affected. In May, the unemployment rate for Latinos was a staggering 17.6 percent, compared to 4.4 percent in February. Between the beginning of the economic shutdowns in mid-March and late May, 61 percent of Latinos experienced loss of employment income, compared to 43 percent of White adults, making the Latino-White gap in loss of employment income 18 percentage points nationwide (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The share of Latino adults with loss of employment income in their households is the highest of all racial/ethnic groups.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from US Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, May 21–May 26, 2020.

Latinos without postsecondary education were especially hit hard by loss of employment income. Among Latinos with a high school diploma or less, 66 percent experienced loss of employment income, compared to 53 percent for Latinos with a bachelor’s degree and 42 percent for Latinos with a master’s degree or higher (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Latinos with a high school diploma or less had the highest share of losses of employment income, at 66 percent.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from US Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, May 21–May 26, 2020.

The loss of employment income has devastated Latino households across the country, with more than half of Latino adults in 37 states experiencing such losses (Figure 2). The losses have been particularly acute in Michigan, where 81 percent of Latino adults have experienced loss of employment income in their households. Six other states have a greater than 70 percent share of Latino adults who have experienced loss of employment income in their households: Nevada (78%), Louisiana (75%), New Jersey (74%), Oklahoma (73%), New York (73%), and Oregon (72%).

Figure 3. More than eight in 10 Latino adults in Michigan have experienced loss of employment income in their households.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from US Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, May 21–May 26, 2020.

The disparities between Latino Americans and White Americans in the share of adults with loss of employment income are daunting, with double-digit percentage-point gaps in 33 states and Washington, DC (Table 1). These Latino-White gaps are 30 percentage points or more in three states: Oklahoma (33 percentage points), Missouri (32 percentage points), and Oregon (30 percentage points). Some of the states with the largest Latino population shares have double-digit Latino-White gaps, including Nevada (25 percentage points), California (19 percentage points), Arizona (16 percentage points), and Florida (15 percentage points).

Table 1. Thirty-three states and Washington, DC, have double-digit Latino-White gaps in the share of people with loss of employment income in their households.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from US Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, May 21–May 26, 2020.

Note: Positive gaps in the share with loss of employment income in their households indicate that a larger share of Latinos than Whites have lost employment income since March, while negative gaps indicate that a larger share of Whites than Latinos have lost employment income in the same period.

State-by-state differences in these Latino-White gaps may be best explained by industry differences: in some states, COVID-related shutdowns may be most concentrated in the industries where Latinos are more likely to be employed. At the same time, lower levels of educational attainment are undeniably increasing Latinos’ risk of job loss in the COVID-19 recession. The COVID-19 shutdowns have eroded their economic position through no fault of their own.

Sustainable recovery for Latinos will require immediate and substantial economic aid for displaced workers. It will also require clearer pathways to high-value postsecondary credentials that serve as gateways to in-demand careers, which offer resilience in the face of economic downturns.

Dr. Carnevale is the director and research professor and Artem Gulish is the senior policy strategist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. CEW is an independent, nonprofit research and policy institute affiliated with the Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy that studies the link between education, career qualifications, and workforce demands.

Follow the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce on Twitter (@GeorgetownCEW), LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook.

Georgetown CEW

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce is a…

Georgetown CEW

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce is a nonprofit, independent research institute that studies the link between education and the workforce.

Anthony P. Carnevale

Written by

Director and Research Professor at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, an independent, nonprofit research and policy institute.

Georgetown CEW

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce is a nonprofit, independent research institute that studies the link between education and the workforce.

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