Across the country, in the face of the coronavirus, more Americans are being asked to “shelter-in-place,” or some version of that, depending on their state. At the time of writing this, as many as half of all Americans are under some form of stay-at-home orders, with a rising cry to make the shelter-in-place rule nationwide. Lockdown orders, of course, come with a price and hardships for all Americans. Still, the challenges and difficulties create extra burdens for Black and Latinx communities, which historically have been underserved.
One challenge that the Black and Latinx communities will face due to the specific nature of COVID-19, comes because Black and Latinx families are more likely to live in multigenerational homes, or have families where grandparents are the primary caregivers for young children. This presents several additional problems, one of the major ones being that this specific disease is most dangerous for those of the older generations. If children are not able to follow quarantine procedures well, or adults are forced to stay in the workforce, they risk exposing the older generation that lives with them. That danger is much further magnified due to crowded living conditions, something faced disproportionately by Latinx immigrant families, and many Black families currently living in sub-standard housing after generations of housing and economic discrimination. These crowded conditions do not just put the older generation at risk, but means that if one person becomes infected, it is much more likely that the entire household will become infected, something which had a high likelihood to begin with. Any opportunity for social distancing within a house is impossible in such conditions. Many immigrant families must live with several families within a single household or apartment; this introduces an entirely new source of infection for all parties involved.
Multigenerational homes are not specific to the Black and Latinx communities but are widespread around the globe. In standard times, they provide many benefits, including allowing grandparents to provide childcare, and the wisdom of an older generation. In the time of COVID-19, there are a host of new dangers. Here are some guidelines to help keep safe during the pandemic with multigenerational households.
Employment (and Income)
For the majority of Americans, their income, and the ability to meet life’s basic needs, such as shelter and food, comes from employment. The unemployment numbers for March have been staggering, with over 3 million people filing since the pandemic. But putting aside those Americans who are no longer employed, and now must struggle through without income, when looking at those who have kept their employment, the numbers can be broken into two categories. Those who can work from home and those who must continue to go out into the world to complete their jobs, and thus be exposed to the virus. A study found that in the United States, only 16.2% of Latinx workers and 19.7% of Black workers had jobs that were able to be converted to work-from-home. This is as opposed to 30% of whites and 37% of Asian-American workers. This means that despite the shelter-in-place order, there is a much higher percentage of Black and Latinx workers who are going out into the world as essential employees, to grocery stores and hospitals, risking their lives, often regardless of whether they have high-risk health conditions. What is more, in risking their lives, providing essential services (for which they are statistically paid less) there is a greater increased risk of that they will expose their family if they live in a multigenerational home, or depend on older relatives for childcare.
The additional challenges created by shelter-in-place orders feed into each other, creating more significant problems. For those workers deemed essential who have children, regular childcare has suddenly disappeared with the closing of schools. Additionally, parents across the country are being asked to take on the additional responsibility of ensuring their child receives their education during this period. But while it is still the school’s responsibility to deliver the education, many school systems and municipalities are falling short of delivering that education equitably. In the time of coronavirus, education requires broadband internet and devices that will allow students to engage with their new virtual classrooms. Children from Black and Latinx communities are disproportionately likely to lack access to these. While some school systems have promised to distribute what is needed for students to have access to continuing their education, so far, distributing what is needed has failed in the country’s largest school system.
Of course, shelter-in-place requires a shelter. Before the coronavirus crisis, this country was facing a homeless crisis, one which is more likely to affect members of the Black and Latinx communities. In addition to wreaking havoc on a child’s ability to get an education, those who are experiencing homelessness face an impossibility in being able to shelter in place safely.
Those who do have shelter, face additional hardships as well. Those who have lost employment, and thus income, face impending bills due, including rent and mortgages. So far, there have been far-reaching talk of breaks on mortgages, but much less so for rent. Black and Latinx families are much more likely to rent, and those who are no longer able to work and who have been laid off will have to pay their rent still to maintain their shelter. Hopefully, there will be nationwide relief to help those families struggling to make rent because of this crisis.
Other Concerns: Utilities and Food
For the most part, it seems that utilities have been instructed not to cut off services for non-payment, which means that everyone who had access to it, should continue to have access to water, electricity, heat and a/c. But this crisis has illustrated how broadband internet ought to be considered a utility. People do not have access to this necessarily, especially in underserved neighborhoods, and it is needed to survive in the time of COVID-19.
Despite the crisis, the White House administration attempted to move ahead with a program that would severely cut SNAP, the food assistance program for poor families. Thankfully, this move was halted by a judge. However, people on tight budgets face additional hardships in attempting to purchase the needed food and other supplies necessary for a shelter-in-place. Studies have shown that 40% of Americans would not be able to handle a $400 emergency expense. Black and Latinx families who are disproportionately affected by poverty are more likely to be unable to supply their homes with what is needed suddenly.