SYLVIE DOUGLIS, BYLINE: NPR.
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CARDIFF GARCIA, HOST:
Hey, everyone. This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. Cardiff here. And today, I'm joined by INDICATOR editor Paddy Hirsch.
PADDY HIRSCH, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Cardiff.
GARCIA: In the 2020 elections, for the first time ever, Hispanics were estimated to have been the biggest group of eligible voters out of any ethnic and racial minority group. More than 1 out of every 8 eligible voters is now Hispanic.
JOSE FERNANDEZ: And you have to expect that that advantage, if you will, will continue.
GARCIA: That is economist Jose Fernandez.
FERNANDEZ: Because it's also a younger population, so that population is just going to continue to age into it. And we have the baby boomers, who are slowly becoming a smaller part of the population. And it's going to be filled by this group.
HIRSCH: Almost 2 out of 3 registered Hispanic voters are Democrats. But the Hispanic vote has fluctuated a lot throughout the decades. In last year's presidential election, former President Donald Trump surprised a lot of people with the number of votes he got in heavily Hispanic counties in Florida and Texas. And it was a clear reminder that Hispanics are themselves a very diverse group.
FERNANDEZ: When it comes to Latinos, Latinx, Hispanics in the U.S., it's a label that doesn't arrive to them until they come to the U.S. Until then, they're Venezolanos, Cubanos, Puertorriquenos. But once they get here, they get hit with this label. And the truth is they're a disporia (ph) of a whole bunch of different groups inside of that who have their own political leanings as well in those groups and their own ideas of what a free government would look like.
GARCIA: But there are, of course, some things that many Hispanics do share. The most obvious is that many are fluent or semi-fluent Spanish speakers. And also, they have the experience of being immigrant families. About a third of all Hispanics in the U.S. are first-generation immigrants.
HIRSCH: And for roughly the past decade, more than half of all the growth in the U.S. population came from the growth in the Hispanic population. That's both because of continued immigration and also because Hispanic families have higher fertility rates than non-Hispanic families.
GARCIA: And so to understand the U.S. economy, it's increasingly helpful to also understand the experiences and contributions of Hispanics. So today on the show, the Hispanic economic outlook and the particular experiences of Hispanics throughout this COVID pandemic and what it could mean for their future.
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GARCIA: Economist Jose Fernandez is the president of the American Society of Hispanic Economists, which just released its annual report on the economic outlook for Hispanics. And by the way, for this episode, we are using the term Hispanics as interchangeable with Latinos because that is how it is used in the report and by our guests. And unsurprisingly, the report focused mainly on the effects of COVID - for example, looking at how the initial spread of the pandemic in those first few months last year fell disproportionately on Hispanics.
FERNANDEZ: You're talking about a group that already explained something like 33% of all COVID cases, which is the highest among all of the groups. And they only constitute about 18% of the population.
HIRSCH: And part of the reason for this disproportionate effect is that Hispanic households simply contain more people on average than non-Hispanic households, so it's easier for the virus to spread.
GARCIA: Yeah. And more shockingly, Hispanics are also more than four times as likely to be hospitalized from COVID as white non-Hispanics. And that's partly because Hispanics are also more likely to have comorbidities, like diabetes, which make catching the virus more severe.
HIRSCH: And as for economic effects, the unemployment rate for Hispanics shot up higher than for any other racial or ethnic group in the early months of the pandemic. A survey from Pew Research find that nearly 6 out of 10 Hispanics lived in a household where someone either lost their job or took a pay cut. And this is partly because of the specific kind of work that's disproportionately done by Hispanics in the U.S.
FERNANDEZ: They were in a lot of forward-facing jobs, a lot of essential worker jobs that were either being laid off or, you know, forced to go to work and potentially exposing their families to COVID. So you're either - you either have to go to your job or you're in a low-paid job that was hit because of closures made by different governors, right? So you can think of the restaurant industry. There is lots of cooks that are out there. If you think about personal services - so how many people have someone come over to their house to clean their house - you know, about 40% of that industry is Hispanics who are doing that. So when you are no longer allowing household employment to come in, when you're no longer allowing people to do that work, that's a loss in income that's going on.
GARCIA: For Hispanic workers, there's also an important distinction between the experiences of Hispanic women - Latinas - and Hispanic men. Monica Garcia-Perez is the former president of the American Society of Hispanic Economists, and she also contributed a study about Latinas to the new Hispanic economic outlook.
MONICA GARCIA-PEREZ: Latinas tend to be concentrated in areas that are very specific to service - so leisure and hospitality or other services or retail sectors in which (ph) you had contact with clients - and also tend to be sectors that are flexible in the terms of time or use of time but also sectors that have very few benefits.
GARCIA: And overall, Latinas are more likely than non-Latina women to have multiple children and especially to be caring for younger children. And the burden of raising the kids often falls to them more than to Hispanic men. And so Latinas who are roughly in their prime working years, ages 25 to 65, participate in the labor force at lower rates than women of other races and ethnicities. But in the years right before COVID, their participation rate had actually been going up - not anymore.
GARCIA-PEREZ: Latinas were starting to see a light as the economy was growing, and the social norms were changing, too. COVID and the crisis has reinforced some of those social norms. And this then impact Latinas even further.
HIRSCH: And COVID may end up having another effect on the kind of service jobs that Latinas disproportionately work in.
GARCIA-PEREZ: But besides that, it's how Latinas are in sectors in where their job could be substitute by technology. And during COVID, we are finding new ways to do things and even finding new ways to do services. In the future, what I would like to see - what I would like to do and I would like to see - it's - what is happening to those jobs that Latinas left? And how many of them are coming back?
GARCIA: For example, if more people end up working from home after COVID because of teleworking technology, then there will be fewer customers for the restaurants and hotels that cater to them and where many Hispanics worked.
HIRSCH: Finally, there is another way in which the COVID pandemic may have a big, lingering effect on the economic future for Hispanics - the disruption to schools - all the closures and reopenings and the different methods that schools are using as they try to teach kids, sometimes online and sometimes in the classroom.
GARCIA: Hispanic students already have big educational gaps between them and everyone else. For example, Hispanics are the least likely ethnic and racial minority group to have a college degree. Jose says those gaps were likely shrinking over time as each successive generation of Hispanics integrates more into the U.S. But the gaps are still big. And the median Hispanic household has less than one-fifth the wealth of the median white household. And so Hispanic families are just less able to afford the kinds of workarounds that can keep their kids learning at the right pace.
FERNANDEZ: You're not just talking about these 12th-graders. You're talking about these fifth-graders, these fourth-graders, these third-graders. How do you teach things like reading? How do you teach things as phonics through this type of interface? That gap is going to be there. It's going to be persistent. I know I'm going to feel it on the shores of college when we see that there are students arriving who are not ready. And we're going to have to make adjustments to deal with those things, to deal with having them catch up.
GARCIA: And so for Hispanics, there remains a lot of uncertainty about what their economic outcomes will be throughout the rest of the pandemic and after. Most were straightforward things like getting back their jobs and incomes and their kids learning in schools again but also for closing the disparities that still exist between how they experience the economy and how others do.
This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Jamila Huxtable and fact-checked by Sam Tai (ph). THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR.
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