In spite of being hit harder by COVID-19 than almost any other population in the U.S., Latinos pressed through the pandemic to produce the world’s fifth-largest GDP during 2020, according to research co-authored by Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professor of health policy and management, and Dr. Paul Hsu, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health assistant professor of epidemiology.
The team, which includes researchers from UCLA and California Lutheran University, found that by December 2020, the age adjusted death rate for Latinos from COVID-19 was more than half again higher than the rate for non-Hispanic whites.
“Literally coming out of nowhere, COVID-19 hit Latinos so hard that, by the end of 2020, it was the number one cause of death for them,” said Hsu, who is also affiliated with the UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture (CESLAC), “with a death rate that was 57% higher than for non-Hispanic whites.”
Nonetheless, Latinos pressed through the pandemic, continued to be economically active essential workers, and by the end of 2020, had produced the world’s fifth-largest GDP, rising from number eight the year before.
“A dominant narrative has emerged that the pandemic should have been a perfect storm for Latinos, deal[ing] a devastating blow to this historically productive demographic group," said Dr. Matthew Fienup, executive director of the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting (CERF) at California Lutheran University and a co-author of the analysis, "The 2022 LDC Latino GDP Report."
From 2005 to 2019, Latino labor force participation—a key driver of GDP production—was higher than that of non-Latinos. In 2020, Latino labor force participation continued to be much higher than that of non-Latinos. Due to a combination of lockdowns and business closures, the brutal months of March and April drove all labor force participation down, but Latino labor force participation recovered quickly, while non-Latinos showed a more anemic recovery.
“Labor force participation, for both groups, was rocked by subsequent waves of COVID-19 transmission,” said Fienup, adding that, after each of these waves, Latinos were “returning to work with urgency.”
Another key driver of the Latino GDP has been the healthy Latino lifestyle, which reduces Latino mortality for chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and stroke by nearly 30%, compared to non-Hispanic white mortality. But communicable diseases such as COVID-19 are transmitted from person to person by breathing or touching, irrespective of lifestyle.
“Since 1940, Latinos have pressed through adversity: wars, recessions, and civil upheavals," said Hayes-Bautista, distinguished professor of medicine at UCLA and Director of CESLAC. "Being able to move the Latino GDP up to the number five position is one more example of how essential Latinos have become to U.S economic growth, for the foreseeable future.”