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Hispanic Workers' Unemployment Claims Offer Incomplete Picture Of Coronavirus Impact

Unemployment Application form
Hispanic and Latinx people made up 13% of Utah’s unemployment claims in April.";

Hispanic and Latinx people made up 13% of Utah’s unemployment claims in April, according to the state’s Department of Workforce Services. 

That number didn’t surprise Mark Knold, the department’s chief economist, because Hispanic workers also make up about 13% of Utah’s labor force.

“You would expect that, more than likely, it [the COVID-19 downturn] would hit all areas equally,” Knold said. “It doesn’t seem to be favoring certain or disproportionately hitting various parts of the labor force.”

Silvia Castro is the executive director of the Suazo Business Center, a nonprofit that helps Utah’s underserved populations grow their businesses. She’s also on the state’s coronavirus economic task force.

Castro said Latinx people largely work in industries that have been shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, like service and hospitality. But she said it’s difficult to measure the impact because many people won’t apply for unemployment benefits.

“There’s distrust of the government,” Castro said. “There’s been a little bit of a fear, too, in terms of immigration status.”

During the pandemic, the business center has focused on connecting people with financial resources. But Castro said they’ve also been teaching their clients digital literacy, including computer and marketing skills many people never had. She hoped workers who have been laid off can use their new skill sets to get better jobs if their current jobs don’t come back.

“How do we uplevel their ability to work from home and to be in industries that work from home,” she said. “This could be an opportunity.”

Castro said the pandemic has revealed inequalities in access to resources. Nationally, the unemployment rate is about 15%, but for the Hispanic and Latinx workforce it’s about 18%

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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