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Rep. Escobar On Pandemic Employment Challenges Facing Latinos

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The highest unemployment rate in America since the Great Depression is even higher among Latinos. The overall jobless rate is 14.7% as we learned the other day. And for Latinos, it is 19%. Claudia Alejandra (ph) was furloughed by Macy's in Orlando.

CLAUDIA ALEJANDRA: I applied for, like, the unemployment benefits right away on March 29. It took me around, like, 11 hours to just try to submit my application just to give me the error that they were not able to verify my identity at the moment. It was like that, like, three weeks.

INSKEEP: Even more time has passed, and she's still waiting for the first payment.

ALEJANDRA: I call, like, a hundred times, like, a day and, oh, they hung up the phone on me. The lines are busy. The last thing that they're doing making you press number two for, like, Spanish. When someone talk to you, it's in English and there won't speak Spanish to you.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about this with Representative Veronica Escobar, who is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a Democrat from Texas. She joins us from El Paso, where it is very, very early. Good morning.

VERONICA ESCOBAR: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why would Latinos be hit so hard?

ESCOBAR: Well, for a number of reasons. No. 1, there are many Latinos in service industry jobs, in hospitality jobs, in office jobs, places that have been shut down during this terrible crisis. And so the unemployment numbers for Latinos are just astronomical. They're feeling even, you know, more significant pain than most Americans because they predominately work in those areas. And then in terms of health as well, we are also disproportionately impacted. We represent about 18% of the population nationwide, yet 27% of the deaths. So Latinos really are bearing a significant burden. We all are, right? Every person in America is feeling significant pain of the terrible, awful time - something absolutely unprecedented and frightening and terrifying. But it is important to examine the communities that are hit hardest so that we in Congress especially can formulate solutions that will help those who are disproportionately impacted in a way that is meaningful and helpful.

INSKEEP: I'm trying to think about why the percentage of deaths would be higher in the Latino community. Is that because Latinos are disproportionately represented in some vulnerable jobs - I don't know - meat processing plants, construction sites, agriculture, that sort of thing?

ESCOBAR: That is part of it. The other part - and I have had a couple conversations with Dr. Anthony Fauci about this. But just like with African American communities, Latinos are predominantly facing two major challenges. And for one, we're sicker and we're poorer. We're sicker because we have underlying health conditions and comorbidities that make us more vulnerable. And we are poorer, and we have less access to health care, health insurance, preventative health care. Those are two major things that obviously we can't fix overnight during a pandemic. But what the recommendation was from Dr. Fauci and it's something that I'm trying to get done through our legislation, our CARES Act II, is that we've got to surge testing and tracing in minority communities because of those underlying factors.

INSKEEP: Testing and tracing in minority communities - of course, people need that everywhere. They want that everywhere. But your argument is that these are the most vulnerable communities, and perhaps it helps to protect us all if those communities get extra protection. Is that right?

ESCOBAR: That's right. And Dr. Fauci - just to demonstrate how vulnerable minority communities are, Dr. Fauci compared our vulnerability to that of people in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities because that's how vulnerable we are. And so we've got to approach communities like El Paso and other minority communities with the same sense of urgency for tracing and testing because the pandemic can explode in communities like ours more significantly.

INSKEEP: Representative Escobar, thanks for taking the time. I really appreciate it.

ESCOBAR: Thank you, Steve. Have a good day.

INSKEEP: Veronica Escobar of El Paso, Texas, is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, talking with us on this day when we are learning that the Hispanic unemployment rate is even higher than for everyone else. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.