Poll: Black, Latino Californians Face More Risk in Jobs and Health From Coronavirus

A new poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found that the COVID-19 pandemic is having a greater impact on the safety and economic well-being of people of color in California. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

When it comes to statistics around COVID-19, grim data is revealing that people of color are often disproportionately affected in California, and a new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll sheds light on why that might be.

Among employed Californians surveyed, 61% of white respondents said they're able to work at home, compared to 42% of Latinos and 53% of African Americans.

When it comes to their families, 41% of whites say they have immediate family members who work outside the home and have regular contact with others, compared with 51% of African Americans and 54% of Latinos. Among racial minorities, including Asian Americans, a much higher percentage say they are "extremely concerned" about the health of those family members than white respondents do.

The poll results underscore "the stark racial differences in which populations can safely work from home," said IGS co-director Cristina Mora. "Latinos, blacks and their families simply face more contact and more risk than whites."

Epidemiologists say that commuting to work, especially on public transit, and working in places where people congregate near each other increases the likelihood of being infected with the coronavirus.

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According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), Latinos, African Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are dying at disproportionately higher levels than other groups in California. The CDPH notes that the proportion of COVID-19 deaths in African Americans is about double their representation in the state's population across all adult age categories.

When it comes to the financial impact of the pandemic, Californians of color also express the most concern. Asked the level of threat posed to the personal finances of themselves and their family, 54% of African Americans and 60% of Latinos called it a "major threat," while 37% of whites and 45% of Asian Americans described it that way.

Asked how serious a problem it was to pay for basic necessities given the pandemic, 14% of whites said "very serious" compared with 32% of black Californians and 42% of Latinos. At the same time, those communities who report the highest levels of concern about the pandemic also express the highest levels of support for the shelter-in-place orders issued by the government.

"Those groups facing the greatest economic hardship from the pandemic are not necessarily eager to end the lockdown," said IGS co-director Eric Schickler. "That may be because these same groups also are most likely to have jobs that put them at greatest risk of exposure to COVID-19."

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IGS co-director Mora noted that it's clear that "the stress and burdens of COVID-19 are not equally distributed, at least racially, across California."

Given those competing health and financial pressures, Mora said people of color "are more worried about staying alive and healthy than they are about their livelihood."

The Berkeley IGS poll was conducted online in English and Spanish between April 16 and 20. Mora said the sample size — 8,800 voters statewide — was the largest one they've ever surveyed, which she attributed partly to more people being at home because of the pandemic, which gave respondents more time to answer survey questions.