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School of Public Policy Students Examine the Financial Impact of COVID-19 on California Latinos

Luisa Blanco Raynal - Pepperdine School of Public PolicyUnder the direction of economist Luisa Blanco Raynal, professor of public policy at the School of Public Policy, a group of Pepperdine graduate students applied qualitative data analysis to explore the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Latino families currently residing in California. Throughout October 2020, the researchers collected data via mobile phones and computers among a sample of 84 low- to moderate-income Latinos who had participated in a previous economic study spearheaded by Blanco Raynal in 2018–2019. The 84 participants shared information about their financial well-being, offered insights into their overall stressors, and disclosed personal experiences highlighting how the pandemic has impacted their personal finances and mental health.

According to Deja Frederick, a School of Public Policy student who served as Blanco Raynal’s research assistant during a summer 2020 internship and partnered with her on this project, the number of participants in the sample that have emergency funds has increased during COVID -19. Frederick shares that COVID-19 relief efforts seem to be an important factor to promote financial security among those who lost their jobs as a result of business shutdowns.

Susie Herrera, who worked alongside Blanco Raynal as a graduate research assistant focusing on qualitative analysis, shares that one of the most eye-opening aspects of this project was learning that no one was exempt from challenges brought on by the pandemic. While some of the essential workers who participated in the process were able to work additional hours at their job sites, this opportunity put their family’s health at risk. Additionally, some families who were barely making ends meet prior to the pandemic experienced even harsher financial hardships.

“I want people to understand the narrative behind the data,” Herrera says. “For example, some people lost 20 hours of work and their savings to make ends meet, while living in fear of a fatal illness as their partners continued to work outside the home to simply maintain basic needs.”

Student Vanessa Cruz, who helped gather the project’s literature review and created graphs to help visually explain the statistics, reveals that based on the data, people of color were financially impacted at higher rates from COVID-19 than white people, and that California-based Latinos in particular experienced the largest disparity in terms of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

To help alleviate some of the challenges presented by this gap, Cruz notes that, “Raising awareness about the financial vulnerabilities experienced by people of color is the first step in addressing these significant circumstances that many are currently experiencing.”

The study also discovered a correlation between ethnic backgrounds and gender, and the ways in which those factors further widen the economic disparity gap. It revealed that Latinas were those most affected by financial hardships during the pandemic in California. Amid school closures and lack of daycare options, many of these women quit their jobs in order to provide full-time care for their children. 

While investigating financial difficulties, the researchers additionally found that many Latinos were experiencing major levels of stress stemming from household management responsibilities, family-related issues, exposure to COVID-19, and the uncertainty of their financial future. In response to uncovering this distress, Blanco Raynal and her team of student researchers recommend emphasizing the importance of mental health treatment services among Latino populations.

In the paper, “Financial Stress among Latino Adults in California during COVID-19,” published in the School of Public Policy Working Papers section of the Pepperdine Libraries website in March 2021, the researchers encourage collaborations between community organizations and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, expressing that, “Through these collaborations, we should focus on devising effective interventions for wellness programs and eliminating the stigma associated with mental health services within the community.”