Opinion: Thinking big about a Latino recovery plan

New York City Hall
New York City Hall
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New York City Hall

Opinion: Thinking big about a Latino recovery plan

After this year’s return to Somos, here’s how New York policy makers and incoming Mayor-elect Eric Adams can address the pressing needs of the city’s Hispanic population, especially after COVID-19.
November 28, 2021

The SOMOS El Futuro Conference, held earlier this month, was chock-full of important panels on the socio-economic and political crises in Puerto Rico, political leadership and expanding needs of Latinos, as well as overdue reunions and politicking. But as the dust settles, we cannot forget that SOMOS took place against a backdrop of increasingly immense challenges facing Latinos in New York.

Community Service Society’s latest Unheard Third Survey, shows that across an array of domains, from housing to digital access and beyond, Latinos have fallen behind in ways that require substantial support to ensure an equitable recovery. 

Over 75% of Latino respondents say the pandemic will be a long-lasting set-back for New York City, and almost half expect a significant setback for their family’s income. Close to 50% of Latina mothers surveyed believe the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their children’s education. This is not surprising, as nearly one in five Latino households surveyed did not have access to enough digital devices, impeding their access to education, job training and tele-health. 

Housing insecurity remains widespread; half of low-income Latino respondents worry that they won’t be able to pay their rent soon. This instability is exacerbated by high joblessness: compared to a 9.8% citywide unemployment rate, the unemployment rate among Latinos is 11%, well above that of white (5.7%) and Asian (7.3%) New Yorkers as of September 2021. Furthermore, 40% of low-income Latino renters experienced rent hikes, one in four Latinos reported landlord harassment, and 17% reported eviction attempts despite the moratorium. 

Acute food and financial insecurity among Latino New Yorkers are major challenges: 37% of Latino households reported experiencing hunger significantly higher than the citywide rate of 28%. Latinos were also much more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to have little to nothing in emergency savings. 

Targeted cash assistance programs – the city and state child tax credit and the earned income tax credit – forms of targeted guaranteed income programs, are tools that local policymakers should seriously consider expanding. Hundreds of thousands of Latinos have been excluded from federal and state emergency assistance programs and the $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund is drying up.

It is time to focus on actionable plans that foster upward mobility, starting with our youngest New Yorkers. Baby Bonds and programs like NYC Kids Rise, which provides $100 to start for every kindergartener as an early investment into a college savings plan, are generational game changers. Such models should be expanded. Mayor-elect Eric Adams needs a coordinated workforce strategy, including a focus on growing sectors from tech and cybersecurity to the “care-giving economy.” People are not returning to work for a variety of reasons – including childcare, work quality, and low wages. The workforce ecosystem should adjust to these factors. The private sector must be an active ally and stakeholder, too. Programs like Here to Here’s Bronx Recovery Corps are combining work and learning for CUNY students while providing employers with local talent. 

But we need more. Beyond facilitating training, the private sector should consider job guarantees to help our economy fully recover. 

Without a doubt, these proposals have a price tag attached, arguably a hefty one. Mayor-elect Adams is already on the right track by zeroing in on cost inefficiencies in city government and ways to save, including considering the Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) to reduce city agency spending, and appointing a city government lead on efficiency to conduct regular financial audits of programs, oversee large government contracts, and make the most of every tax-payer dollar spent. A portion of the savings, estimated at 3 to 5% of the city’s operating budget, could be placed in workforce development and job fund, buttressed by philanthropic dollars to jump start. 

Another measure could be a modest tax incentive or small wage subsidy to incentivize private sector entities who endeavor to train and guarantee hiring of local talent as a pilot, especially those of diverse backgrounds in growth sectors. The new Administration also could use its power to provide discounted city-owned property for workplace training.

I am an example of a government investment coupled with a job guarantee. I received funding from New York’s Higher Education Opportunity Program for college, and through the Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship – aimed at providing economic opportunity and diversifying the U.S. diplomat corps -- I was trained in foreign policy. Through federally-funded scholarships, paid internships and more, I joined the U.S. State Department as a diplomat for more than a decade. Government should join forces with companies to scale up training and job guarantee programs. 

The Mayor-elect should also ensure Latinos have a prominent seat at the policy-making table. A record 10 Latinas won recent New York City Council seats. This is a positive development to be sure, but we cannot ignore the lack of Latino representation in high-level government administrative roles, the private sector, philanthropy, and city and state-wide elected office. It is very encouraging that Mayor-elect Adams, through the development of a diverse transition team, seems eager to empower his Administration to hire the right people who will execute practical solutions to benefit all New Yorkers. 

What is required is a policy agenda that uplifts Latinos and other vulnerable populations, focused on globally successful models, targeted local investments, and public-private partnerships focused on both short-term gains and bold generational change. 

Latino New Yorkers are worthy of such investment. 

Emerita Torres
Emerita Torres is the vice president of policy, research and advocacy at the Community Service Society and a former U.S. diplomat. She is also a Fellow at the Truman National Security Project.