African Americans and Latinx people continue to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, the two groups have been more likely than others to test positive for the virus, die from the virus, and become unemployed due to the economic shutdowns.
Now, seven months into the pandemic, the Black and Latinx communities in the Sacramento region are feeling more financially squeezed than before, particularly when it comes to food and housing, according to a new survey by Sacramento nonprofit Valley Vision and CapRadio.
Monica Rueles Mares said she’s seen the impact the pandemic has had on the local Latinx community.
“I would see a lot of my community and extended family members as well like, sell their cars, sell their possessions, sell things that they would have kept if their need wasn’t so high to just have income right then and there,” said Rueles Mares, a community organizer in south Sacramento.
Those financial issues are glaring in a pandemic-induced economic crisis that has left millions of people unemployed, struggling to pay for food and housing.
Survey results showed that food insecurity decreased between May and August overall, with 19% of respondents reporting that they aren’t able to afford food.
But that is not the case for Latinx and Black respondents. Thirty-six percent of African American respondents and 30% of Latinx respondents reported they can’t afford food, an increase from just 23% of African Americans and 27% of Latinx respondents who answered similarly back in May.
For food banks, this increase has meant a steady rise in demand.
Blake Young, president and CEO of the Sacramento Food Bank, said that before the pandemic, they gave out food to 150,000 people monthly. Now they’re distributing food to about 300,000 people monthly — a number “way worse” than during the 2008 recession, Young said.
And the people most impacted?
“Minority groups and neighborhoods that are underserved have been hit the hardest,” Young said. “We’re going to have a serious hunger crisis for quite some time.”
Young said he’s observed many people with food insecurity coming for nutrition, among them are stressed parents trying to feed their children who aren’t getting their regular school-provided meals.
He added that parents will often forgo food to allow their children to eat, and that seniors will often forgo food to buy medicine.
And it’s not just food. The survey showed that 45% of African American respondents and 38% of Latinx respondents are unable to pay rent, as compared to just 19% of white respondents.
Kitty Bolte of the Sacramento Tenants Union said her group has been concerned about tenants who don’t speak English as a primary language, or tenants who might be undocumented being unfairly evicted as a result of not paying rent.
While California has laws in place to prevent evictions as a result of job loss from the pandemic, Bolte said many residents of color may not contest illegal evictions if they’re worried about citizenship status.
“Tenants who are undocumented, we think are particularly likely to self-evict to avoid confrontation or an encounter with the court system,” she said.
And the impact of the pandemic on the finances of Black and Latinx people could have far-reaching effects.
Seciah Aquino with the Latino Coalition for a Health California said that evictions or losing housing can take a toll on generational wealth-building.
“In terms of having the ability to build wealth as a family, as a population, the Latino community do have an uphill battle with that,” Aquino said. “So when we’re talking about not being able to pay rent, not being able to put food on the table, the thought of affording a home, it’s just out of the question. That’s another layer of the social determinants of health and those barriers that keep people in poverty cycles, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated those disparities.”
For Rueles Mares in South Sacramento, she said she’s seeing frustration in her community as the pandemic wears on.
“There are people who are disillusioned with a system that did not support them when they needed it. They were hearing about all this federal stimulus funding, but no one was really receiving it given their mixed status families,” Rules Mares said. “I would hope that we don’t have to live on this survival mode for more than however long this is going to last.”
Editor's note: The poll was a partnership between CapRadio and Valley Vision, and administered by Sacramento State’s Institute for Social Research.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.