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COVID Check-In: Working-Age Latinos Are Dying at Alarming Rates. What Does That Mean for Future Generations?

Forum Director of Research Noreen Sugrue provides regular updates on the implications of the latest COVID-19 data. Here, she explores the potential consequences of high death rates among Latinos aged 20-59 on education, home ownership, and entrepreneurship.

By Noreen Sugrue, Director of Research

In Illinois, more than 10 percent of Latinos have been or are currently living with COVID-19. As the pandemic progressed from its earliest days, we began to witness death rates among Latinos aged 20-59 climb at an especially alarming rate. As of March 1, 2021, 41 percent of those aged 20-59 who have died from COVID in Illinois are Latino.

When families suffer the tragic loss of a working-age family member, their economic stability takes a huge hit, too, adding insult to tragedy. But families are not the only ones who will face the consequences. These deaths come with economic costs that communities, the state, and the nation will also end up paying.

A spike in deaths among working-age people begs the question of how it will impact future generations’ abilities to keep making strides in educational attainment, home ownership, and entrepreneurship.

Educating children—and especially sending them to post-secondary school—requires family resources and economic stability. Prior to the pandemic, we were seeing increases in both the percentage and number of Latinos who were acquiring at least a baccalaureate degree. There was a 4 percent decline overall in college enrollment between Fall 2019 and Fall 2020, and a 5.4 percent decrease for Latinos.

With those numbers and those rates projected to grow, there will be micro- and macro-level economic consequences. For example, the projected differentials in lifetime earnings, retirement savings, and the likelihood of having a job between a college graduate and a non-college graduate are enormous. There will be substantial economic shockwaves if Latinos are unable to continue the educational advances they were making before COVID. And everyone will be impacted by them.

Home ownership, which before COVID was at almost 50 percent for Latino households in Illinois, is the single most important vehicle for wealth accumulation among the non-wealthy. A down payment, steady income, job security, and good credit are all necessary to purchase a home. For most non-wealthy families, that means more than one income stream is necessary. As the death rate for working-age Latinos increases, the opportunities for families to own their home decreases.

The loss of Latino lives during their peak earning years also means that there are fewer dollars to be spent and paid in taxes. This will have deleterious consequences on both the private and public sectors.

The consumer spending power of the Latino population is second only to the white population. In 2019, data from the Selig Center at the University of Georgia documented Latinos controlling $1.5 trillion in spending power—larger than the GDP of Australia. Prior to the pandemic, Latino consumer spending power in Illinois was projected to be a major economic engine for Chicago, the collar counties, the state, and the nation.

Economic entrepreneurship is a hallmark of the Latino community. That becomes threatened when the rate of death continues to climb among those most likely to open a business. A decline in small businesses leads to a decline in jobs, as well as federal, state, county, and local tax revenues.

To mitigate the loss of lives among these working-age Latinos, we must ensure workplace safety, access to healthcare, and equitable access to vaccines. For those families who already have lost these working-age members, government officials must find a way to help shore up these families financially. They must restore the Latino community’s pre-COVID gains in educational attainment, home ownership, and entrepreneurial activities. The economic stability of Chicago, the collar counties, the State of Illinois, and the nation depend on it.