Statewide survey confirms immense economic impact of pandemic on Eagle County Latinos |

Statewide survey confirms immense economic impact of pandemic on Eagle County Latinos

Western Slope Latinos report even higher rates of struggles with food insecurity and affordable housing compared to Latinos statewide

Sarahy Luna, an employee of The Community Market, packs bags of food for distribution to food insecure families in Eagle County during the height of the pandemic last year. The Community Market saw a 300% increase in the number of residents utilizing their food assistance services in 2020.
José Valsecia/Courtesy photo

A new statewide survey confirmed what Eagle County Latinos and service providers already knew: Latino residents in the valley and across Colorado have been disproportionately impacted by the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the 1,000 Latino adults surveyed across the state, 60% said they had their work hours or pay cut or had someone in their household lose their job, according to the results released Tuesday. One in three respondents reported not having enough food to eat.

“It is almost impossible to overstate the pandemic’s impact on the Latino community in Colorado,” said Alex Sánchez, executive director of Voces Unidas de las Montañas, in a press release issued with the results.

The survey was conducted over the last two weeks in August by BSP Research on behalf of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), according to the release. An overview of the survey’s results was released Tuesday with full results set to be released next month.

Respondents living in the Western Slope area reported a higher level of strife when it came to two things: housing affordability and food insecurity. The survey showed that 40% of Western Slope Latinos could not always afford sufficient food and 64% struggled to pay their rent or mortgage.

Support Local Journalism

This does not come as a complete surprise as struggles with food access and affordable housing are well documented in the Eagle Valley. However, these statistics show the full extent to which the pandemic exacerbated these preexisting challenges among local Latinos.

“When it comes to basic economic indicators like having the money to pay bills in order to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table, the survey provides a sobering glimpse at how hard the economic recession caused by the pandemic has been for the state’s largest ethnic minority,” Sanchez said.

Nearly one-third of Eagle County residents — and 52% of students — identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and Eagle County Schools. Statewide, Latinos account for 22% of the population and roughly 34.2% of public school students, according to data from the Census and the Colorado Department of Education.

The statewide survey also revealed that 56% of respondents had difficulty paying their bills or utilities in the last year and 50% had difficulty paying rent or mortgage.

The financial strain of pay cuts and job loss has forced Latinos to make incredibly difficult decisions to keep their households afloat for the last 18 months. Many survey respondents reported using all or nearly all their savings to cover expenses, skipping monthly car or housing payments, or avoiding health-related expenses.

The survey showed that 34% of respondents spent all or most of their savings covering expenses.

As the pandemic stretched on, this balancing act has left 42% of Colorado’s Latino population with $1,000 or less in savings for financial emergencies and 20% with $100 or less in savings.

Furthermore, 19% of respondents were forced to skip a monthly car, rent or mortgage payment; 11% postponed education or career-related expenses; and, perhaps most concerningly, 20% postponed or cut back on health-related expenses.

Many were also forced out of their homes, with 14% of respondents reporting that they moved or changed their housing situation in the last year and a half.

Only 37% of Latinos in Colorado said they are “very confident” that they can cover basic expenses like food and housing, according to survey data.

Just under 30% of respondents said they had to borrow money from family or friends to make ends meet but others had to resort to more concerning sources of cash, especially in the Western Slope region.

Latino residents in Western Slope communities reported especially high rates of resorting to high interest loans to cover expenses. Nearly 1 in 5 Western Slope Latino residents, or 19%, have used “payday or easy loan companies” since the start of the pandemic, compared with 11% statewide.

Leaders of local nonprofits like Sánchez were among the first to notice this trend locally last year as the need for their services doubled and, in some case, tripled.

Former MIRA program manager Virginia Lecea speaks with a local resident outside of the MIRA Bus. The MIRA Bus is a local nonprofit that offers public health and wellness resources across Eagle County, with a focus on Latino residents and other underserved populations.
Dominique Taylor/Courtesy photo

The Community Market, a local food bank that serves many Latino families struggling with food insecurity, had to up capacity last spring after it saw a 300% increase in visitors.

Just a month into the shutdown of the country’s economy last year, a study by the Pew Research Center showed that 66% of Latino employees in the United States said they would not be paid if the pandemic caused them to stay home from their jobs for two weeks or more.

This disproportionate impact on Latino employees and entrepreneurs revealed itself locally as a wave of Latino-owned businesses shuttered their doors temporarily and, in some instances, permanently.

“Latinos across the state were faced with difficult and sometimes dire decisions during the pandemic,” Dusti Gurule, executive director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), said in the press release.

“Now, they are looking to officials at the state and federal levels to deliver policies to improve the outlook for jobs and the economy as well as to address costs associated with necessities like housing, health care and internet access,” Gurule continued.

The survey commissioned by COLOR also asked about public policy priorities among Colorado Latinos regarding the state and federal government.

At the federal level, immigration reform was the most popular priority, with 23% listing it as the most important issue for Congress and President Joe Biden to address. Discrimination and racial justice also made the top 10 policy priorities with 20% of respondents listing it as the most important.

Other top-10 issues at the federal level included jobs and the economy (22%), the pandemic (18%), health care costs (17%), education (17%), and affordable housing (16%).

At the state and local level, “addressing affordable housing” and “the rising cost of living” were marked as key issues.

The survey also asked respondents about a few public policies currently being debated at the state level.

There was a high level of support for a state fund to help Latino-owned small businesses, with 88% of respondents indicating that they “strongly” or “somewhat” supported the idea. The same level of support was expressed for the idea of new housing requirements forcing developers to include affordable housing.

High levels of support were also reported providing high-speed internet access to all Coloradans (86%) and bolstering economic opportunities outside of the Front Range (79%).

But the highest level of support came on a question about ensuring “a living wage and safe working conditions” for all workers in Colorado, for which 91% of respondents expressed their support.

The survey was commissioned by COLOR in the hopes that it will inform the work of three new task forces formed in the Colorado Legislature on Economic Recovery and Relief, Affordable Housing, and Behavioral Health. The task forces will oversee the statewide distribution of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds in the coming months.

Additional funding for the survey came from the Metropolitan State University of Denver’s political science department, the Colorado Democratic Latino Caucus, Voces Unidas de las Montañas, and Protégete of Conservation Colorado.

The study reported a margin of error of 3.1% with acceptable margins of error typically lying between 4% and 8%, depending on the size of the surveyed population.

Support Local Journalism