Bell Gardens hit hard by pandemic
Seven of every ten residents of southeast Los Angeles County have lost their jobs or had their wages cut during the covid-19 pandemic, and 40% have less than $500 in savings to help them survive the economic devastation, according to a survey published today.
The survey was conducted for a Los Angeles foundation seeking information on how small cities in the region are faring, including Bell, Bell Gardens, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Maywood, Lynwood, South Gate, Paramount and East Compton, among others. About 700,000 people reside in the 15 communities, about 90% of them Latino with many families living below the poverty line.
A lot of people in the region are essential workers, including janitors, restaurant workers and grocery store employees. Of those surveyed, 41% said that they are working outside of the home, and a quarter said they do not feel safe in their workplace.
Also, even though they were essential workers, people found it hard to obtain tests for the coronavirus. Nearly half said they wanted to be tested, but were unable to because of “testing deserts” — a lack of city testing sites and inadequate health care.
Despite the severe effects on their own finances, 75% said that their communities should do what they can to prevent the spread of the virus even if the economy remains shut down.
Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, project director at UCLA Labor Center, said many Latino communities were experiencing poverty before COVID-19 due to high cost of living conditions and low wages.
“When the COVID-19 hit, I think it exacerbated those conditions and it made it horrible,” he said.
Rivera-Salgado said in a low-wage economy, income is very unpredictable.
“Savings is not an issue, survival is an issue for these communities,” he said. “And given the fact that there is a high cost of living, you really end up living paycheck-by-paycheck and you don’t put money away for savings in case of disaster, like what you see now.”
Anayeli Velazquez, who lives with her husband and two daughters in Huntington Park, didn’t participate in the survey but she reflects many of the concerns reported. She said her husband is the main provider of the family, and when the outbreak started he was laid off from a clothing factory.
The family decided to shelter at home but it was difficult because their savings didn’t last long. “We live day by day and barely have any savings,” Velazquez said.
Huntington Park Councilwoman Graciela Ortiz said many of her city’s residents are essential workers in grocery stores or at industrial plants in Vernon and Commerce. Most of the residents who lost their jobs were working in retail sales or restaurant and food industries.
“Many of them don’t have the luxury to stay or work from home. They have to go to their locations,” she said.