Latino families

Michael Gamino Correa, 5, plays with a toy after completing his school Zoom class with his mom Rosario Correa, 34, at home on Thursday, March 18, 2021, in Sacramento. The single Latina mother changed her work schedule to a night shift to help supervise her three children's schooling during the day. (Paul Kitagaki Jr./Sacramento Bee/TNS)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools across California to close, Rosario Correa took a closing shift at a fast food restaurant partly so that she could monitor her children's in-home learning during the day.

Each night, she arrives home from work at 2 a.m. Five and a half hours later, she wakes up to get her kids ready for online school.

Prior to the pandemic, Correa worked as a housekeeper at a Sacramento hotel during the day while her children attended school and after-school programs. Now, more than half of her paychecks go toward paying a babysitter to watch over her three children — ages 5, 12 and 15 — while she works.

"I hardly sleep," Correa, 34, said in Spanish. "It's been very difficult."

The pandemic has disrupted the lives and routines of millions of California parents. But child care and poverty experts say it especially strained low-income Latino workers with young children.

Latinos, who are "less likely than other workers to have jobs that can be done remotely," account for 38% of the state's workforce, according to a Legislative Analyst's Office report.

More than 3 million children in California under age 12 are Latino, according to a California Budget & Policy Center analysis. That's about half of the state's population in that age group.

"Many families are forced between paying the bills and caring for the children right now, which is a horrible place that no parent should ever have to be," said Kristin Schumacher, a senior policy analyst at the budget center.

Latino workers in California account for half of the state's essential workforce and are mostly employed in personal care, food and recreational sectors, the Legislative Analyst's Office report says.

Latinos working in the hospitality sector could have a particularly hard time finding child care, according to Kevin Ferreira van Leer, an assistant professor of child and adolescent development at California State University, Sacramento. It's an industry known for not offering set work hours or providing schedules in advance.

"Many families are used to this balancing act," he said.

That constant juggling, he said, can lead to economic consequences for Latino families, like missing a workday and pay for not showing up to work due to child care breakdowns.

Latinos are also younger on average and are most likely to have children living at home than other groups. About 54% of California public school students in grades K-12 are Latino, according to a California School Boards Association analysis.

Mary Ignatius, a statewide organizer at Parent Voices, a grassroots organization that aims to make child care accessible and affordable, said she knows some parents who quit their jobs in order to stay at home during the pandemic to assist their kids with in-home learning.

She said low-income Latino households, who are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, often face language and digital barriers.

Correa, the mother of three, fears her children are falling behind in school. She wishes she could do more to help them with their schoolwork, but said she is not fully proficient in English.

"In the mornings, I have to make sure they are at school," she said. "I would like for them to be learning in school and that things could go back to how they were."

It's not uncommon for Latino parents to turn to family members, like an aunt or grandmother, to take care of their children, according to Ferreira van Leer, while they are at work. In some cases, older siblings are asked to take care of younger siblings.

"We don't know what in the pandemic that's looking like, but most likely it's probably some mix of those things," he said.

Schumacher said many child care providers have permanently closed their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, further limiting child care options for families.

"We know that even prior to the pandemic, 6 in 10 Californians were already living in a child care desert. If we lose even more providers that means it's going to be even harder for families to access care," Schumacher said, citing data from the Center for American Progress. "These child care deserts are concentrated in low- and middle-income communities, and also in Black and Latinx communities."

Currently, the state offers subsidized child care and preschool for 415,000 children through various programs, according to a separate Legislative Analyst's Office report.

Sacramento City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said many families in Sacramento feel disconnected from subsidized child care services in the city. One organization she recommends is Child Action, Inc., which helps low-income families afford child care.

She recommends working-class families enroll their children in after-school or summer programs provided by public schools.

"Most people turn to their own families, their own neighbors and their own parents," Ashby said. "That has really put people in a corner."

One report by the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families found that Hispanic families have historically "underutilized government assistance programs aimed at serving families who experience poverty, reporting that they do not need them or do not have knowledge of the assistance available or eligibility requirements."

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