COVID-19 has deepened existing inequities in Black and Brown communities across northeastern Illinois. For Latinx residents, avoiding exposure to the coronavirus has proven particularly challenging.
Studies have shown that Latinx communities have a higher rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases than any other racial group. In Cook County, for example, the five ZIP codes with the highest rates of confirmed cases are all predominantly Latinx, according to a WBEZ analysis of data from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the U.S. Census Bureau. Those areas include Chicago neighborhoods like Little Village and Hermosa, as well as west suburban Cicero and Stone Park.
Social factors, including employment and housing patterns in Latinx communities, may contribute to this higher experience of COVID-19. A recent Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning analysis found that many essential jobs in the region are disproportionately held by workers of color: Although Latinx/Hispanic workers make up 21 percent of regional workers, they are especially over-represented in construction (39.3 percent) and food service occupations (38.1 percent), making it more difficult to avoid exposure.
Furthermore, financial need may also drive Latinx residents to continue working during the pandemic. Latinx workers who are not yet U.S. citizens do not have access to support through unemployment or stipends from the CARES Act.
Multigenerational housing also presents a challenge specific to Latinx residents, who make up 21 percent of homeowners and 13 percent of renters in northeastern Illinois. National trends show an overall increase in multigenerational housing in recent years, with rates increasing fastest among Latinx populations, according to an AARP report. A single Latinx household, therefore, may be more likely to include children, retired grandparents, and parents and other family members who are essential workers, allowing the virus to spread more easily and reach higher-risk older adults.
Community leaders must understand these unique challenges and respond to the specific needs of the people most impacted by the pandemic. Public engagement with Latinx residents remains important. As the pandemic continues, communities should find ways to disseminate materials and public service messaging that is culturally and linguistically appropriate for all residents.
Here are three steps that local leaders can take to better engage Latinx communities during their COVID-19 responses.