California’s economy hit two significant milestones this fall – its GDP is poised to surpass Germany as the world’s fourth largest economy, and it has officially recovered the 2.7 million jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, just as these positive trendlines are surging, Californians continue to face economic challenges and Latinas are bearing the brunt.
The Latino Community Foundation recently hosted a roundtable discussion in the Inland Empire with community stakeholders and state officials to unpack economic challenges and opportunities for Latinos in the state. Attendees shared powerful critiques on the dichotomy of California’s economic prowess and the economic challenges their families face. They called for livable wages and access to competitive career opportunities so that they don’t have to work three jobs to survive, so that they can afford housing, so that they can rest and spend time with their families. Their passionate concern for community was not the only thing they had in common, they were also overwhelmingly Latina. This is notable because just as California’s economy is bounding forward, Latinas have slipped further behind.
Latinas have persistently faced the largest gender wage gap, making just pennies on the dollar as compared to white men, but the pandemic has widened this gap. In 2021, Latina Equal Pay Day, the day that Latinas finally earn what their white male counterparts earned in the previous year, fell on October 21. This year, Latina Equal Pay Day won’t arrive until December 8. That is nearly two years of work to equal what their white male counterparts earned in one. The pandemic’s impact on food, service, and leisure and hospitality jobs, where Latinas are overrepresented, and on schools and childcare providers forced Latinas out of the workforce at the highest rate of any group and exacerbated this inequity.
However, what the latest jobs recovery numbers tell us and what the attendees at the roundtable made clear is that even as Latinas and others reenter the workforce, just having a job is not enough to guarantee that families can survive, let alone thrive. Lower unemployment and a larger GDP coupled with traditional workforce development strategies will only produce the same pain points families are already experiencing. Californians need wrap-around services that allow them to succeed in training for good jobs and advance in those jobs – this means the basics like gas and transportation to get to work, but also childcare and social safety net programs. And, while all labor is skilled labor, to build a more just economy, we must pair jobs with higher educational opportunities to create access to higher-paid jobs in tech innovation, healthcare, and infrastructure.
Government has a vital role to play in bringing forth this vision, ensuring that all workers are treated with dignity and that agencies and resources are effectively aligned. Some key steps already taking place are investments in High Road Training Partnerships and efforts led by the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency to combat wage theft, which disproportionately affects Latinas and low-wage earners. The state’s Community Economic Resilience Fund is another promising strategy, largely in part because of the regional opportunities it can provide for grassroots organizations who know the needs of our communities best, a focus that enables a more equitable recovery and that we and our partners strongly support.
Philanthropy is also instrumental to building an ecosystem that trains, assists, and advocates for workers and their families. On this front, investments in anchor institutions are key and new strategies that leverage our community’s entrepreneurial spirit are taking hold. The Latino Community Foundation has used its Entrepreneurship Fund to invest in entrepreneurship and Latinapreneurs so they have the agency and support to succeed in this economy and to build a more just one. By starting their own businesses, Latinas can close the Latina wage gap and create jobs. Meanwhile, as data from the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative illustrates, these won’t just be any jobs, but better jobs with better wages, benefits, and advancement opportunities for employees than other businesses.
California’s economic growth figures are promising, but insufficient without a more concerted reimagining and equitable reinvestment of resources, both public and private, into the very communities that have persistently carried our economy while struggling to survive. No place is that more palpable than with California’s Latinas, whose tenacity despite the challenges should spur even stronger commitments to building a California where all can thrive.
By: Jacqueline Martinez Garcel
CEO, Latino Community Latino Foundation