How COVID-19 struck the heart of the Latin Family Network

The relentless death toll of COVID-19 robs the Latino community of what has long been seen as the secret weapon behind its impressive growth and soaring prosperity: grandparents.

Multigenerational families have played a particularly important role in helping Latinos as they have grown to be the largest ethnic group in California and the second largest in the country.

Older Latinos, who are more likely than average to remain in the workforce beyond retirement age, often provide additional income for the joint family.

And even in retirement, grandparents provide much-needed childcare, carpooling, cooking, and other aids to their families, lowering the expenses of the wider family and freeing other adults to work longer hours and earn more.

But Latinos 55 and older have died of COVID-19 at a disproportionately higher rate than white, black and Asian people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In fact, after long enjoying an overall lower mortality rate than the white population, all Hispanics have lost that advantage in California and some other states, largely due to epidemic infections, research shows.

And it’s not just a loss for grandparents. COVID-19 has had a negative impact on uncles, aunts, older children, and others who have played vital roles in helping low-income, multigenerational Latino families benefit themselves exponentially.

While the death of the elderly has been devastating for all population groups, the impact on Latinos of losing these beloved and vital contributors has caused significant damage and could ripple through society—emotionally and economically—for years to come.

“What we’re seeing is a domino effect,” said Maria Cadenas, executive director of Ventures, a nonprofit that helps working-class Latin American families in California’s Central Coast. ‘Because its impact is not only lack of income.’

For Latino families, the early loss of a grandparent often means “all of a sudden they have to work more, they have to find alternative ways to take care of the children, alternative ways to commute to work,” Cadenas said. “We are talking about economic stability and economic mobility.”

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

In a matter of weeks, the white-haired Tobias—always so strong—was dead at the age of 82.

Before that, “he was driving, cooking, taking care of the kids, and helping his wife,” said his granddaughter Shivon Nobua, 41, a social worker. “He was an active person.”

Tobias was instrumental in taking care of the family. He looked after his bedridden wife of 62 years, Juana, changing diapers and giving insulin injections.

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

“From the moment they got up, he’d eat her breakfast. They played ball together. From sunrise to sunset, they were literally inseparable—two peas in a pod,” Chiffon said.

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

To take care of ailing Juana, Chiffon’s mother Janet Noboa must now step up her retirement plans from a hospital janitor job.

Since then, Chiffon, her boyfriend Wilson Tuala, and their two children have moved out of the house and into their own apartment – to get a fresh start and a distance from Tobias’ painful memories.

“My grandfather was energetic and energetic and brought such warmth and love into our lives,” said Chiffon. “COVID has changed and taken all of that away.”

said Arturo Bustamante, a professor of health policy and management at UCLA who has been studying the effects of the pandemic on Latinos.

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

COVID-19 deaths, which now exceed 1 million in the United States, are hitting Latinos at a higher rate in part because they are more likely to work jobs that can’t be done remotely and are often at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.

This included older Latinos, who statistically have been in the workforce longer than most. About 42% of Latinos 55 and older were either working or looking for a job in 2021, compared to about 38% for all people over 55, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Another factor that has made older Latinos more vulnerable to the pandemic is a higher likelihood of living in the same multigenerational households that have worked in their favor for so long.

Analyzing Census Bureau numbers, the Hispanic Institute at Child Trends found that 15% of Latino children in the United States live with a grandparent, compared to 12% for all children.

Younger family members often inadvertently exposed older ones to the virus, which seems to be the Noboa family case.

Latinos in the country illegally sometimes lack adequate health insurance coverage, which has prevented many from seeking treatment for COVID-19.

The epidemic was a remarkable reversal in the wealth of society. Before COVID-19, Latinos in the United States impressed with their relative health and longevity, despite a lack of education and a lower average annual income.

In 2019, the death rate for Hispanic adults 65 and older was 28.7% lower than that of white adults. But in the first year of the pandemic, that benefit dropped to 10.5%, according to research by Marc Garcia of Syracuse University and Rogelio Saenz at the University of Texas San Antonio.

In an upcoming paper, Garcia and Saenz write that the gap in the overall death rate in California for Latinos 45 and older — 23% lower than the same age group for white adults in 2019 — has completely disappeared as of last year.

It remains to be seen if the Latino death advantage in states like California will return, but scientists see irreparable damage from the excessive deaths.

“There is already beginnings to cause lasting harm to those who have been hit hardest by COVID deaths,” said Alicia Riley, a sociologist and expert in Latino studies and mortality at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Riley fears that tears in the Latino family and community networks could have dire consequences for the mental health of the surviving members, as she fears the gains Latinos have made in education and income.

Reynaldo Rosales, 65, of watsonville, california was an essential worker at a nutritional supplement distribution plant in santa cruz county.

He was the primary breadwinner in a home where he and his wife, Maria, lived with two of their adult children. The couple has other children and grandchildren who live nearby. They would watch the children on weekends and some weekday evenings, allowing the adult children to work more 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 wife of 41 years recalls sobbing.

Maria said she has been watching her grandchildren on the weekends since his death. But this may get more difficult. Without her husband’s income, she was forced to look for overtime to support herself.

She doubts that anyone will ever be able to fill her late husband’s multiple roles.

“He was a hardworking man,” she said.

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