The relentless death toll of COVID-19 is robbing the Latino community of what has long been seen as the secret weapon behind its impressive growth and rising prosperity: grandparents.
Multigenerational households have played a particularly important role in helping Latinos as they have grown to become the largest ethnic group in California and the second largest in the nation.
Older Latinos, who are more likely than average to remain in the workforce past retirement age, often provide additional income to the joint household.
And even in retirement, grandparents provide childcare, transportation, cooking and other assistance for their families, reducing expenses for the wider household and allowing other adults to work longer hours and earn more.
But Latinos 55 and older have died from COVID-19 at disproportionately higher rates than whites, blacks and Asians, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In fact, after enjoying lower overall death rates than whites, Latinos lost all but that advantage in California and some other states, mostly due to epidemic accidents, studies show.
And it’s not just the loss of grandparents. COVID-19 took a toll on uncles, aunts, older children, and others who had played a critical role in helping especially low-income, multigenerational Latino households to self-sustain.
While the death of the elderly has been devastating for all population groups, the impact on Latinos of losing these beloved and important contributors has caused a great toll and could ripple through the community—both emotionally and economically—for years to come.
“What we’re seeing is a domino effect,” said Maria Cadenas, executive director of Ventures, a nonprofit that helps working-class Latino families on California’s Central Coast. “Because its impact is not only a lack of income.”
For Latino households, the untimely loss of a grandparent often means “suddenly they have to work more, have to find other ways of childcare, other ways of transportation to work,” Cadenas said. “We are talking about economic stability and economic mobility.”
Tobias Noboa, a retired taxi driver and immigrant from Ecuador, was the patriarch of a seven-person, four-generation household in Queens, NY, when COVID-19 entered their home in April 2020.
In a few weeks, the white-haired Tobias – always so strong – died at the age of 82.
Before that, “he was driving, cooking, taking care of the kids, helping his wife,” said his granddaughter Shyvonne Noboa, 41, a social worker. “He was an active man.”
Tobias played an important supervisory role in the household. He cared for his bedridden wife of 62 years, Juana, changing diapers and administering insulin injections.
He also helped with the day-to-day upbringing of his two great-grandchildren – Lincoln, now 9, and the family’s youngest, Shea, 7.
“From the moment they got up, he gave her breakfast. They played ball together. From sunrise to sunset, they were literally inseparable – two peas in a pod,” Shyvonne said.
Besides the emotional pain and grief, Tobias’ death hollowed out the Noboa household structure.
To care for the ailing Juana, Shyvonne’s mother, Janet Noboa, must now advance her retirement plans from hospice care.
Shyvonne, her boyfriend Wilson Toala and their two children have since moved out of the house into their own apartment – to start anew and some distance from Tobias’ painful memories.
“My grandfather was energetic, active and brought us so much warmth and love,” Shyvonne said. “The COVID changed and took all that away.
For tight-knit families with lower incomes, the loss of a grandparent can be particularly devastating, making “it difficult for households to continue to make progress,” said Arturo Bustamante, a UCLA professor of health policy and management who has studied the impact of the pandemic. . ten latinos.
“Now, COVID is another factor that threatens economic security,” he said.
Deaths from COVID-19, which now exceed 1 million in the U.S., hit Latinos harder, in part because they are more likely to work in jobs that can’t be done remotely and are often at greater risk being exposed to the coronavirus.
That includes older Latinos, who statistically stay in the workforce longer than most. About 42% of Latinos age 55 and older were either working or looking for work in 2021, compared to about 38% for all people over 55, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Other factors that make Latino seniors more vulnerable to the pandemic are that they are more likely to live in the same multigenerational households that had long worked in their favor.
Analyzing Census Bureau figures, the Hispanic Institute at Child Trends found that 15% of Latino children in the US live with grandparents, compared to 12% for all children.
Often, younger household members have inadvertently exposed older people to the virus, which seemed to be the case for Noboas.
Latinos in the country also sometimes lack adequate health insurance coverage, which prevented many from seeking treatment for COVID-19.
The pandemic marked a remarkable reversal of fortune for society. Before COVID-19, Latinos in the U.S. drew admiration for their relative health and longevity, despite having less education and lower-than-average annual incomes.
In 2019, Latino adults age 65 and older had an overall mortality rate 28.7% lower than white adults. But in the first year of the pandemic, that edge dropped to 10.5%, according to research by Marc Garcia of Syracuse University and Rogelio Sáenz of the University of Texas at San Antonio.
In a forthcoming paper, Garcia and Sáenz write that the gap in California’s overall death rate for Latinos 45 and older — 23% lower than for the same age group of white adults in 2019 — has completely closed as of last year.
It remains to be seen whether the Latino mortality advantage in states like California will return, but scholars see irreparable damage from the disproportionate number of deaths.
“There are already the beginnings of lasting damage to those affected by the COVID deaths,” said Alicia Riley, a sociologist and specialist in Latino studies and mortality at UC Santa Cruz. Riley fears that the rupture in Latino family and community networks will have serious mental health consequences for surviving members and reverse the gains Latinos have made in education and income.
Reynaldo Rosales, 65, of Watsonville, California, was an essential worker at a dietary supplement distribution center in Santa Cruz County.
He was the main breadwinner in a household where he and his wife, Maria, lived with their two grown sons. The couple have other children and grandchildren who live nearby. They watched the kids on weekends and some weekday evenings, allowing the grown-up children to put in more hours of work.
When Rosales tested positive for COVID-19 in January 2021, he was so sick with fever and pain that he had to crawl to the bathroom, his wife of 41 years recalled through tears.
Since his death, Maria said she now watches her grandchildren on weekends. But it could get harder. Without her husband’s income, she has been forced to look for additional work hours to support herself.
She doubts that anyone can play the multiple roles of her husband.
“He was such a hardworking man,” she said.