How COVID-19 hit the heart of the Hispanic family network

The relentless death toll from COVID-19 is depriving the Hispanic community of what has long been considered the secret weapon of its impressive growth and rising wealth: grandparents.

Multigenerational households have played a particularly important role in helping Hispanics as they have grown into California’s largest ethnic group and the second largest in the nation.

Older Hispanics, who are more likely than average to remain in the labor force beyond retirement age, often contribute additional income to the general household.

And even in retirement, grandparents provide much-needed childcare, car sharing, cooking and other assistance to their families, cutting costs for the wider family and freeing up other adults to work longer and earn more.

But Hispanics aged 55 and over have died from COVID-19 in disproportionately high rate than white people, blacks and Asians, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In fact, after enjoying the common mortality is lower than that of the white populationHispanics have nearly lost that advantage in California and some other states, largely due to pandemic casualties, studies show.

And it’s not just the loss of grandparents. COVID-19 has taken its toll on uncles, aunts, older children and others who have played a vital role in helping low-income, multi-generational Latin American households rise to the top.

While the death of the elderly has been devastating for all populations, the impact of the loss of these people on Hispanics beloved and important members caused enormous damage and could affect society – both emotionally and economically – for years to come.

“What we’re seeing is a domino effect,” said Maria Cadenas, chief executive of Ventures, a nonprofit that helps working class Hispanic families on California’s Central Coast. “Because its impact isn’t just a lack of income.”

For Hispanic households, the premature loss of a grandparent often means “all of a sudden they have to work harder, look for alternative ways to care for their children, alternative ways to travel to work,” Cadenas said. “We’re talking about economic stability and economic mobility.”

Tobias Noboa, a retired taxi driver and Ecuadorian immigrant, was the patriarch of a family of seven and four generations in Queens, New York when COVID-19 entered their home in April 2020.

A few weeks later, the grey-haired Tobias, always so strong, died at the age of 82.

Prior to that, “he drove a car, cooked, took care of the children, helped his wife,” said his granddaughter Siobhanne Noboa, 41, a social worker. “He was an active person.”

Tobias played an important role as a caretaker in the household. He cared for his 62-year-old bedridden wife, Juana, by changing diapers and injecting insulin.

He also helped with the day-to-day upbringing of his two great-grandchildren, Lincoln, now 9, and the youngest member of the family, Shi, 7.

“From the moment they got up, he fed her breakfast. They played ball together. From sunrise to sunset, they were literally inseparable – like two drops of water,” said Siobhan.

In addition to the emotional pain and grief, Tobias’ death shattered the Noboa family structure.

To take care of an ailing Juana, Siobhanne’s mother, Janet Noboa, must now step up her retirement plans from her job as a concierge at the hospital.

Siobhanne, her boyfriend Wilson Toala, and their two children have since moved out of the house into their own apartment to start a new life and move a little away from the painful memories of Tobias.

“My grandfather was energetic, active and brought so much warmth and love into our lives,” Sivonna said. “Covid changed and took it all away.”

For tight-knit, low-income family structures, the loss of a grandparent can be especially devastating, making it “hard for households to continue to make progress,” said Arturo Bustamante, a professor of health policy and management at UCLA who studies the consequences of the pandemic. good latinos

“Now COVID is another factor that threatens economic security,” he said.

The COVID-19 death toll, which now exceeds 1 million in the United States, has hit Hispanics at a faster rate in part because they are more likely to work in jobs that can’t be done remotely and often have a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus.

This includes older Hispanics, who statistically stay in the labor market longer than most. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 42% of Hispanics aged 55 and over were either working or looking for a job in 2021, compared to about 38% of all people over 55.

Other factors making older Hispanics more vulnerable to the pandemic include a higher likelihood that they will live in the same multi-generational families that have worked for them for a long time.

Analyzing data from the Census Bureau, the Hispanic Child Trends Institute found that 15% of Hispanic children in the US live with grandparents, compared to 12% for all children.

Often younger family members inadvertently infect older ones with the virus, which seems to have been the case with the noboa.

Hispanics who are in the country illegally also sometimes lack adequate health insurance, preventing many from seeking treatment for COVID-19.

The pandemic marked a remarkable twist of fate for the community. Prior to COVID-19, Hispanics in the US were admired for their relative health and longevity despite having less education and averaging lower annual incomes.

In 2019, Hispanic adults aged 65 and over had a total mortality rate 28.7% lower than white adults. But in the first year of the pandemic, that figure dropped to 10.5%. according to research Mark Garcia of Syracuse University and Rogelio Saenz of the University of Texas at San Antonio.

In a forthcoming article, Garcia and Saenz write that the gap in California’s overall death rate for Hispanics aged 45 and over is 23% lower than for the same age group of white adults in 2019 – as of last year, in full. disappeared.

It remains to be seen if the Hispanic advantage in mortality will return in states like California, but scientists see irreparable damage caused by excess mortality.

“There is already the beginning of long-term harm for those who have been hit hard by COVID mortality,” said Alicia Riley, a sociologist and expert in Hispanic studies and mortality at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Riley worries that the rupture in Hispanic family and community networks will have serious consequences for the mental health of surviving members and will wipe out Hispanic gains in education and income.

Reynaldo Rosales, 65, of Watsonville, California, worked at a dietary supplement factory in Santa Cruz County.

He was the main breadwinner in the family, where he and his wife Maria lived with their two adult sons. The couple have other children and grandchildren who live nearby. They looked after the children on weekends and some days in the evenings, which allowed the older children to work longer hours.

When Rosales tested positive for COVID-19 in January 2021, he was so ill with a fever and aches that he had to crawl to the bathroom, his 41-year-old wife recalled with tears in her eyes.

After his death, Maria said that she now looks after her grandchildren on weekends. But it can get more difficult. Without her husband’s income, she was forced to look for extra hours of work to support herself.

She doubts that anyone can fill the multiple roles of her late husband.

“He was such a hardworking person,” she said.