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COVID Check-In: Cautious Optimism as Latinos Return to Work

Forum Director of Research Noreen Sugrue provides regular updates on the implications of the latest COVID-19 data. Here, she explains why there is some good reason for optimism in recent jobs-report numbers, and also why we shouldn't let our guards down.

By Noreen Sugrue, Director of Research

With about 916,000 new jobs added in March, more people are returning to work, and there is some reason for optimism.

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in March, “the unemployment rate edged down to 6.0 percent... The rate is down considerably from its recent high in April 2020 but is 2.5 percentage points higher than its pre-pandemic level in February 2020.” Some of the March 2021 growth was led by gains in labor sectors where a large portion of the Latino population works; these sectors include service, leisure and hospitality, and construction.

Overall, the jobless rate for Latinos went slightly down to 7.9 percent, while for most other groups the jobless rate remined the same. The exception to that was in the Asian population, where the joblessness rate rose to 6 percent following a decline in February 2021.

As more and more people become vaccinated, there is hope that the economy will keep accelerating—and even boost the hardest-hit labor sectors, like hospitality and service. Many of the jobs lost due to COVID could return as people begin to travel, go to restaurants, concerts, sporting events, and gather with friends and family. That’s good news for Latinos, as they are highly represented in these jobs.

Still, we must exercise caution. With cases and hospitalizations increasing and new variants emerging, there is once again risk of shut-downs or diminished capacity in restaurants, hotels, and other entertainment venues (in other words, diminished economic activity in the arenas where we are just starting to see jobs return). If that were to happen, it is again Latinos who would bear a disproportionate share of job loss and economic disruption.

Economic recovery appears to be on the horizon, but we cannot let our guards down. The COVID-driven economic havoc that has befallen the Latino community is not going to be rectified in the short run. Economic assistance and support for basic necessities of daily living, as well as job training and new economic and entrepreneurial opportunities, are still sorely needed for all marginalized communities, especially Latinos.

Latinos continue to have the highest rate of cases and the greatest proportion of deaths to those aged 20-59. They also remain the most likely to not use publicly funded social safety net programs or to not have health insurance.

We should celebrate, but cautiously, and with an understanding that the economic condition of all marginalized communities remains tenuous. We need to affirm an unwavering commitment to providing necessary economic assistance to those most at risk.