What Latinos are Learning from the Pandemic
1.Good health practices matter, but basic health practices are not enough. All of us must follow the recommendations to shelter in place, practice safe distancing, and wear a mask in public settings. Access to good health insurance makes all the difference to Latinos who need to visit a doctor or require hospital care. As a state, Texas is making little progress in expanding medical insurance to a sufficient number of residents.
According to texmed.org/uninsured, “Texas is the uninsured capital of the United States. More than 4.3 million Texans – including 623,000 children – lack health insurance.” Texas’ lack of insurance coverage is unacceptable. Instead of addressing this problem conservative voices in the White House and Congress have sought to dismantle Obamacare. This must not be allowed to happen. We have learned from the pandemic that the U.S. healthcare system is broken and desperately needs reform.
2. Working conditions matter. Latinos make up a sizable number of the essential workers in Texas. In San Antonio, Latinos go to work everyday in jobs where infection and deaths have been most pronounced. Most of the Covid-19 cases in San Antonio have been reported in the city’s jails, nursing homes, and meatpacking plants. Latinos work in these jobs. Employers are being pressed to provide sufficient safety equipment to their workers and to set social distancing regulations in the workplace. We have learned that employers are not doing enough to make work places safe.
3. Working from home is not the solution for every Latino family. Many Latinos in Texas work in semi-skilled industries where remote work is not possible. These workers deliver supplies to construction sites, process food in grocery stores, work in restaurants, and stock and clean the warehouses that provide Texas with essential products.
USAA, which provides insurance and financial services to veterans, is one of San Antonio’s largest employers with 19,000 employees This week executives announced that USAA would allow nearly all its workers to do their jobs from home. White-collar workers can easily continue to process insurance claims from their home. However, security workers and those who clean the building must report to work daily. While security and cleanliness make good sense, an unsafe worksite also endangers Latinos, who perform most of these jobs. We have learned that there are huge disparities between working conditions of white collar and blue collar jobs.
4. Federal assistance matters. Annually, Texans send more money to Washington than money that comes back to our state. The Congressional stimulus package of two trillion dollars is just a beginning of critically needed federal assistance. Latinos in Texas, as well as in large states such as California and New York and smaller states like Arizona and New Mexico largely operate and run small businesses. These businesses are the Mexican restaurants, print shops, cleaners, dress shops, auto repair shops, etc.
While Covid-19 aid was intended for small businesses, too many federal loans and grants ended up in the hands of large businesses with millions of yearly income. This inequity is being addressed and some large retail food chains have returned millions of dollars that they erroneously received. Still, federal aid has been slow to reach Texas small business owners, many of whom are in dire need of assistance. The pandemic has taught us that Latino small businesses have a difficult time accessing financial resources that could help them survive.
5. There are also Global lessons. Congressman Joaquin Castro reminded us in a May 19th webinar that the United States is an “open nation” and that we can never shut the borders completely to avoid another pandemic. Every year since 2016 more than 75 million visitors traveled to the United States. This figure does not include the thousands of international students who attend colleges and universities in America. Mexico registered the largest number of visitors to the United States with nearly 20 million. In 2015 the tourism industry in the United States contributed $1.6 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy. Because of the pandemic, America has already seen a significant drop in international travel from across the globe. Many Latinos work in this important industry. The pandemic has taught us that the U.S. is economically linked to other nations and the U.S. must work together with others to have a healthy economy.
These are but a few suggestions to keep in mind as we plan our path to normalcy. While many people are suffering because of the pandemic, it is teaching us to think innovatively about priorities.
Copyright 2020 by Dr. Ricardo Romo. All photos copyrighted and courtesy of Dr. Ricardo Romo