Tag Archives: Sunita Sohrabji

CA Census Hits Hard-to Count-Benchmark But Wealthy Communities Lag Behind

California’s Census self-response rate is a nationwide leader, but many residents in the state’s wealthy enclaves have yet to respond.

9.7 million households in the state have already responded — more than 64 percent — but more than two million households have not participated in the nine-question online survey at census2020.gov. A mail-in form is also available.

California’s self-response rate is higher than the national average – slightly more than 64 percent versus

62.8 percent throughout the country as of July 30, according to data from California Complete Count-Census 2020. California also has the highest average self-response rate in census tracts where a large percentage of residents are foreign born.

As part of its original strategy, California Complete Count focused its outreach on 3.5 to 4.1 million  households considered “hardest-to-count” because they lack access to broadband Internet and therefore cannot complete the online form. Hard-to-count households may also speak English as a second language and live at or near the poverty line.

So far, 2 million hard-to-count households have responded, which meets the state’s initial target and puts it ahead of 10 other states with similarly high racial and ethnic diversity. California has the largest number of hard to count households in the country, according to California Complete Count.

Surprisingly, however, wealthy cities in the state — which in past censuses have been easy to count — have had a lower response rate in the 2020 census. In posh Malibu, for example, self-response rates dipped to 36 percent. In San Francisco, wealthy neighborhoods such as Cow Hollow, the Marina, Pacific Heights, and the Presidio have self-response rates of 53 percent, a startling drop from the 2010 census, when these neighborhoods exceeded 70 percent.

Ditas Katague, longtime director of California Complete Count-Census 2020, the state’s initiative to ensure an accurate census count, said during an Aug. 3 press briefing that there are only a few days left to respond to avoid enumerators coming knocking at the door. All residents in the country are required to respond to the Census regardless of immigration status.

“This is a pivotal time in our nation’s history. Face to face contact is limited,” she said, also noting the uncertainty of door-to-door field work.

U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced Aug. 3 that he was cutting short the time for field data collection. Earlier, enumerators were scheduled to continue knocking on doors until Oct. 31. But Dillingham’s memo said field operations would end on Sept. 30 to ensure that the Bureau would meet its statutory deadline of Dec. 31 for delivering census results to the White House.

The shortened timeline for data collection immediately evoked response from critics. House Majority leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, issued a series of tweets Aug. 4, stating: “Last night’s announcement that the 2020 Census will be cut short before its work is done is yet another example of this Administration’s blatant assault on our Constitution and our democracy.”

“Trump has been trying to undermine the Census since before it began. The House will continue to investigate these abuses. With only 6 in 10 people counted so far, I urge the Commerce Secretary & Census Director to insist on conducting the full count as mandated by our Constitution,” tweeted Hoyer.

Katague said she was deeply concerned that field work might be cut short. “A successful count involves enough enumerators and enough timing.”

“We risk a historic under-count,” she said.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay






California’s Diversity Makes Accurate Census Difficult

California’s rich diversity of ethnic populations makes an accurate census count extremely challenging, says Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder and director of AAPI Data.

“California’s diversity is the source of our strength. There’s a lot that we gain from having the kind of racial diversity. At the same time, those factors make it more challenging to count,” said Ramakrishnan, who serves as the associate dean of the UC Riverside School of Public Policy, and professor of public policy and political science.

Ramakrishnan cited a lack of in-language resources, geographic diversity, including populations living in rural areas, and first-generation immigrants who may not understand the census process or its importance as barriers to getting an accurate count of California’s population.

Many immigrants also fear the information they share on the nine-question form may be shared with immigration enforcement authorities or the Internal Revenue Service. “It’s important to reassure them that all of the information they provide is protected by law,” and not shared with other agencies, said Ramakrishnan.

“The census is constitutionally mandated by the US Constitution to make sure that every person counts. So this includes citizens as well as non citizens regardless of their immigration status or what kind of visa that they have,” he said.

Reaching the Asian American Pacific Islander population poses some unique challenges, said the researcher, noting that a large percentage of the population of California are first generation AAPIs with limited English language proficiency.

“So it’s so important for us to make sure that we are reaching out to them in a language that they understand and that we’re using trusted messengers, people that they trust from their faith-based associations to nonprofits that serve them so that they can be reassured that this information is protected,” said Ramakrishnan.

The U.S. Census Bureau conducted a survey of Asian Americans, Blacks, Hispanics and whites two years ago.Two-thirds of Asian Americans surveyed said they were extremely to somewhat concerned that their data would be used against them.

About 43 percent of AAPIS surveyed said they would not likely fill out the Census form. Only 22 percent said they were familiar with the Census.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also made it harder to reach populations that have had a history of non-participation. “The disease and the economic fallout are hurting communities that are least likely to be counted by the census,” said Ramakrishnan, advocating for investments in health care and economic assistance for vulnerable communities.

Census data, collected every 10 years, is used to allocate federal resources and accurate representation in Congress. Businesses also use data from the decennial survey to determine where to set up shop.

As of early July, more than 46 percent of California households had filled out their Census forms, according to the California Census 2020 Campaign. San Mateo County had the highest response rate in the state, with over 72 percent of residents returning the survey, which can be mailed in or filled out online. Enumerators do go door to door to reach households who have not filled out their census forms.

Can We Move Beyond ‘Wash, Rinse, Repeat’ Cycle Of Protests?

Nothing has changed except the year

The COVID 19 pandemic, which has dominated the news throughout much of 2020, took a knee this week, as the U.S. turned its collective zeitgeist to the issue of police brutality against African American men.

Cities across the nation erupted in civic unrest over the alleged murder of Minnesota resident George Floyd. Former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, not letting up even as the victim pleaded: “I can’t breathe,” before becoming unresponsive. Chauvin has been charged with second degree murder and manslaughter. Three police officers, Tou Thao, Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane, have been charged as accomplices in Floyd’s death and jailed.

“Black lives just don’t matter. That is the bottom line here. Black lives haven’t mattered since the inception of this nation,” said Dr. Jody Armour, a professor of law at the University of Southern California, during a June 5 briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services.

Armour said there is a “wash, rinse, repeat” cycle to addressing the civil rights of African Americans.

Armour’s first book, ‘Negrophobia & Reasonable Racism: The Hidden Costs of Being Black in America’ was published in 1997 by New York University Press. “It was really about every one of the issues we’re talking about today,” he said.

“Nothing’s changed, except what year it is,” said Armour, adding that each time there’s an eruption over police brutality. commissions are convened, public hearings are held, people vent their frustrations, and interventions — such as the use of body cams and implicit bias training — are put in place.

“And here we are looking at a moment in Minneapolis, Minnesota where the police department had all those interventions. They were one of the early departments to start implementing all those interventions and it didn’t solve the problem. I think we’re coming to the realization that there’s not a technological fix,” said Armour.

Armour, along with three other speakers, called for cities to de-fund their law enforcement budgets and re-route the money to social services, with an aim to staunching the numbers of African American hostile encounters with police and addressing structural racial and ethnic inequities.  He encouraged cities like New York, where 200 police officers actively arrest subway turnstile jumpers, to re-focus on high-level crimes.

Dr. Tung Nguyen, an internal medicine specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, described racism as both a social determinant of health and as a disease itself.  “Police brutality is a disease vector,” Tung said.

“Chronic exposure to racism causes the body to change adversely to the release of stress, hormones, and neurotransmitters,” said Nguyen, adding: “We also know that acute exposure to racism can lead to death,  as in the case of the recent killings of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.”

An expert on health disparities, Tung noted that one out of 2000 black Americans have died in the pandemic, and their mortality rate is two to three times more than white people.

“The pandemic has severely stretched all of our dysfunctional systems — health, economic, legal, and political — to their limits and broken them. We can no longer pretend that they were good enough. They were never good enough, except for those of us who enjoy privilege,” stated Nguyen.

Nguyen noted the absence of data for minority communities needs to be corrected but added that “I’m not a typical academic research who only asks for more data. At my university, it seems like every single black man, from the janitor to the tenured professor has a police encounter story. To me, that’s data.”

Nguyen reiterated the point in his final statement. “One out of 1000 black men can be expected to be shot by the police in their lifetime. We don’t need more data.”

Thomas A. Saenz, President and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, expressed his hope that the nationwide rage against Floyd’s brutal death, would result in some tangible interventions.

“It’s ironic that today we are experiencing these crises under perhaps the most openly racist and exclusionary president,” said Saenz.

Saenz warned against “perpetuating and even facilitating discriminatory disparities which our underlying culture still accepts… if we cannot attribute them directly to intentional and openly-expressed racial discrimination.”

As the nation begins to recover, Saenz predicted that people of color will be the last to be hired.

The civil rights advocate noted that most undocumented people have Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers and pay taxes but did not receive $1,200 stimulus checks. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has stated that immigrant students are ineligible for emergency financial aid.

Saenz also warned that the pandemic has already impacted the 2020 Census and will likely lead to an under-count of African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos. “This will have long-term impacts throughout the decade, not only on political representation of those groups, but on funding for services to those communities,” he said.

John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC)  noted that Asian Americans have had a history of both implicit and explicit bias against African Americans.

“Asian Americans have not always stood up for the African American community, and that has to change,” stated Yang, adding: “I do think that this moment with George Floyd has caused us to see things differently.”

“The community, I think, has responded with more solidarity that have, I have seen than in past incidents,” he said.

Many Asian American civil rights organizations have lambasted former Minnesota officer Thao for standing by as Chauvin pressed into Floyd. In the video, Thao can be seen trying to shoo away bystanders.

“We recognize that there was racism within our own community, and we recognize that has to be addressed,” said Yang.

“Part of the answer is having those hard conversations with our own community, recognizing our own biases and trying to come up, developing a path forward from there,” he said.

What’s In The Pipeline To Revive Ethnic Small Businesses?

Main Street America, its plethora of largely minority-owned small businesses ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, will see opportunities to revive with the help of federal stimulus funding, a May 29 group of panelists concluded.

Speakers at the discussion, organized by Ethnic Media Services, included Rep. Ted Lieu, D-California; businessman and philanthropist Charles Phillips, director of the New York Federal Reserve Bank; venture capitalist Shelly Kapoor Collins, a member of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s Entrepreneurship Task Force; and Sumita Batra, CEO of ZIBA Beauty Salons.

More than 100,000 small businesses have had to shut their doors permanently, according to a study released in April by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Of the businesses it surveyed, 43% have closed temporarily and owners have laid off 40% of their staff.

Six out of 10 small businesses will close by Labor Day if the current environment continues, reports the National Federation of Independent Businesses. In California, 95% of businesses are classified as small businesses.

Congress’ $350 billion stimulus package — approved in April and known as the Paycheck Protection Program — is a loan program to help small businesses survive during the COVID 19 pandemic by providing eight weeks of payroll and some additional funds for operating expenses. The Small Business Administration defines small businesses as those with fewer than 500 employees.

Fourteen days after the program began, it ran out of funds. Money had been quickly gobbled up by larger businesses — many backed by venture capital — and by hotel and restaurant chains with fewer than 500 employees at various locations.

“It wasn’t even a fair fight,” said Phillips.

Larger entities had relationships with big banks and artificial intelligence bots that filled out loan applications, he explained. Smaller businesses, also known as micro businesses, normally are funded by Community Development Financial Institutions, not by large banks. Of the more than 1,000 CDFIs in the United States, only 90 participated in the first round of stimulus funding, said Phillips, noting that the process for applying was extremely difficult.

Many micro businesses are sole proprietorships, especially in the African American small business community. Such businesses were unlikely to receive PPP loans because they had no employees and thus no documented payroll. Phillips gave the example of a barbershop where the owner simply rents out chairs to barbers who are independent entities. For many micro businesses, payroll is not its largest expense, but the PPP program stipulates that 75% of the loan must be used to cover payroll.

Phillips expressed optimism for the second round of funding, an additional $484 billion approved by Congress in late April to keep the PPP program going. It set aside $60 billion to be distributed by smaller banks with less than $50 billion in assets.

In this round, 324 CDFIs are participating, and an additional $10 billion was set aside specifically to channel loans through them.

Loan amounts also have dropped, from $260,000 in the first round to an average $115,000, which means smaller businesses are applying and getting funded,  Phillips said. To date, about 4.5 million loans have been distributed.

Rep. Ted Lieu, who represents California’s 33rd Congressional District, said Democrats fought hard to make the second round of stimulus funding accessible to businesses with fewer than 20 employees. The challenge, however, lies in letting business owners know these funds are available.

Re. Lieu used his own immigrant parents, who ran a small gift shop as an example of a typical very small business: “We had no idea what a chamber of commerce was. We had no idea what really was happening in most of government. We were just trying to survive and try to sell gifts and make sure that we had money to make payroll,” he said.

Every member of Congress has a staff member dedicated to helping business owners manage their PPP loan applications, Rep. Lieu noted, and added that he is advocating for future rounds of stimulus funds. “We just have to provide additional sustenance to the American people, both to families and to businesses.”

Even if governments all across America lifted the stay-at-home orders, the economy would still be sluggish, he said. “People are simply not going to engage in a lot of activities that they previously did because they want to protect themselves and their families. That’s going to keep our economy slow until there’s a drug therapy or a vaccine.”

During the briefing, the congressman lambasted President Trump for refusing to wear a face mask: “I think it’s shameful and disgraceful of the president of the United States not to wear a mask in public and to post things on his social media that suggest people shouldn’t wear a mask. It is a ridiculous way to govern.”

Shelly Kapoor Collins, a general partner at the Shatter Fund, which invests in women-founded businesses, said even in a good economy, women get only 2% of venture capital funds. “So, can you imagine what will happen in a post COVID era?”

Collins, who also served in the Obama administration’s National Women’s Business Council, stressed the importance of ensuring that women have access to capital to start and grow their businesses. About 12.3 million businesses nationwide are owned by women. They employ nine million people and generate $1.7 trillion in revenue.

“If women continue to scale their businesses, we have the opportunity to grow our GDP by $500 billion,” Collins said.

The United States must have an economy that includes businesses owned by diverse founders, she said, “especially [in] minority communities and especially [by] women. It’s the right thing to do, without which we cannot have a full economic recovery.”

Sumita Batra shared the story of ZIBA Beauty Salons, a business her mother founded that brought the centuries-old beauty technique of threading to this country. In March, before Newsom issued his statewide stay-at-home orders, Batra made the difficult decision to close all 14 branches of her salon and laid off 144 employees. Their final paychecks came out of her personal savings.

She applied for a PPP loan when the program began and received funds 10 weeks later. Those funds can only be used for operations and payroll after receipt and not for past debts, such as unpaid rents or leases.

Touch-based services, such as threading and nail salons, will have a harder time recovering postpandemic. Batra said she will not re-open her salons until she can ensure that her employees and clients are absolutely safe. She advocated for having stimulus funds directed specifically to services like her own.

“Touch services coming back too soon will be one of the things that ends up spreading COVID,” Batra said.

Photo, Top: Charles Phillips, a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (left); Rep. Ted Lieu, D-California. Bottom: Sumita Batra, CEO, Ziba Beauty Salons (left); venture capitalist Shelly Kapoor Collins, member of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s Entrepreneurship Task Force. (photos provided)

Don’t Let Us Disappear From The Census Say Youth Contest Winners

At a time when San Francisco lags behind the statewide average in census response rates, youth artists and writers have a special message for those who have not yet filled out their forms: “Don’t let us disappear.” 

The young people spoke at a June 3 virtual awards celebration honoring winners of a Census contest for 14-21 year olds dubbed “Why My Family Counts.” The contest drew over 100 contestants working in several mediums, including watercolor, charcoal and pencil sketches, as well as poetry, essay, spoken word and video. The contest was designed to engage youth in the process of ensuring an accurate census count.

The celebration opened with a panel of civic leaders and census experts who drew direct connections between young people insisting on being counted and nationwide protests over racist violence.

 “Our communities of color and particularly our black community are in pain,” noted Adrienne Pon, Director of the Office of Civic Engagement and Community Affairs which sponsored the contest. “Today’s event is about more than an art contest.  It’s about celebrating the voices and creativity of our youth who choose to express themselves … in ways that give us reasons to hope that tomorrow will be a better day, that black lives matter, that we ALL count.”

Currently, San Francisco has a response rate of 58% compared to the state average of 61%. The Bay Area overall has a 68% response rate. Last week, the county hit a plateau, registering an increase of only 1%, noted Robert Clinton, OCEIA’s project manager for the 2020 Census. Clinton noted that tracts of the city which reported high rates of COVID-19 infections also had low census participation rates, as did neighborhoods with the lowest income levels.   

Clinton said that the census “is one of the many tools that our federal government has to make us seen as a people but also to erase us as a people.” He referenced the long lengths of time people wait on the phone to reach a census operator as well as limited language options.

“The language of the census doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to people who are limited English proficient who are under educated or who have been marginalized in many other ways,” Clinton said.

Stephanie Kim, Director of United Way Bay Area, described the census as a tool of empowerment that “gives communities a say in who leads the political institutions that have the power to protect or to harm us.”

“Our communities deserve to thrive, not just survive. The same racism that permeates our justice system and sanctions police brutality also has robbed many black communities of the resources they need and deserve,” said Kim.

David Tucker, a census expert with the state complete count committee, pointed out that since 1980 California’s black population has had a below average participation rate. “We need to use this opportunity that we are under siege for social injustice to speak out. While I know we are getting exhausted, I am encouraged and excited by the messages you are sending out to your families and friends. The census is the thread that binds us all.”

Sonny Le, a specialist with the  Census Bureau, announced that the Census Bureau wants to activate youth leaders who could become census enumerators in their own communities. Le, who  grew up as a refugee from Vietnam in a Tenderloin apartment with three other families, noted that  “For me, the census is  personal. Some of my relatives are still facing the same problems of access and services I did in the 1980s.”  

Youth speakers followed the census advocates with personal stories echoing the importance of the census as a tool of visibility and empowerment.   Angelo Gerard Ubas, 14, said “I  painted a family of birds standing on a tree branch looking at the city skyline which was blurry. I know the census doesn’t count animals…but the census will sharpen the image of the city, of who lives here, and help government know what they have to do to improve.”

Maygie Li, 21, said her family immigrated from China and moved to Montana where her grandparents helped build the railway. She is currently a student at California College of Arts. In drawing the face of  a woman etched against a map of Native lands in Montana, she aimed to uplift an invisible population, and show “how we are all connected and need to be counted.”

Elijah Ladeki, 18, recited his poem entitled “Counted Out” which he wrote “as an opportunity to help my community.” The poem, excerpted here, describes “all my life” living in housing projects.  “I will look  at my single mother and wonder why she is stressed/I can’t miss out trying to give us a mention/It’s been way too long putting our rights on layaway.”  

Jesse Martin, 15, shared his video of a Thanksgiving meal celebrating his large family which he calls “a mix of different ethnicities which are the foundation of San Francisco. If we don’t get counted, we get silenced.” 

Bobbi Brown, 21, recited her tribute to the 2010 census, “No one should disappear/Everyone should count/community and fear/that out/2020 Census include all of mine …”

For full texts and paintings by these and other winners, please go to https://ethnicmediaservices.org/myfamilycounts/







The Shadow Pandemic: Women Work Longer, Sleep Less Due To COVID-19

Women around the world are facing a shadow crisis amid the COVID 19 pandemic, as their workloads for both paid and unpaid labor increase dramatically.

“The COVID 19 pandemic has aggravated the existing conditions for women, who are discriminated against in all sectors,” said Dr. Beatrice Duncan, Policy Advisor, Rule of Law, UN Women, at a May 22 briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services.

Panelists at the briefing noted that the COVID crisis has both highlighted and exacerbated gender inequality around the world. They also discussed the dramatic rise of domestic violence, including abuse by adolescent children. Duncan stated that domestic violence has seen a three-fold spike in the U.S. over the past two months.

Dr. Kirsten Swinth, Professor of History at Fordham University, compared the current pandemic to the 1918 pandemic and the Great Depression, suggesting that there were lessons from both that inspired women to push forward.

“The 1918-19 flu pandemic was a huge blow to male-led modern medicine, and its faith in science to cure infectious diseases,” said Swinth. Nurses however, were valorized, because of their professionalism in providing essential care services.

Similarly, in the current pandemic, essential workers, including those on the bottom of the economic ladder are lauded as heroes for providing essential services in a time of crisis, she said.

Recognition of women’s critical role in the 1918 epidemic occurred simultaneously with suffragettes going door to door to garner support for women’s right to vote: the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.

Swinth also pointed to how increased social and economic burdens on women during the Great Depression helped birth a generation of women leaders who fought for cost of living issues and increased participation in labor unions.

Dr. Nicole Mason, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research said women disproportionately account for the nearly 39 million people who have filed for unemployment in the last nine weeks because of their over-representation in service sector jobs which require employees to be on site, rather than working remotely. The service sector has been hit the hardest by the economic lockdown.

The U.S. Labor Department released data earlier in May, which examined unemployment claims by gender for the month of April. Unemployment rose overall from 4.4 percent to 14.7 percent. For women, unemployment rates rose to 16.2 percent versus 13.5 percent for men. In February, prior to the pandemic’s full throttle on the U.S. economy, unemployment rates for both sectors were roughly equal at 3.5 percent.

As day care centers and schools close down, women face the double burden of full-time care for their families — including home-schooling them — while also trying to hold down a full-time job. Conversely, women who have retained their service sector jobs are having to make very tough choices between working and taking care of their families, said Mason.

Women will also have a harder time economically recovering from the pandemic. “Many lost jobs will not be returning,” she said, advocating for long-term policy solutions which would help women re-enter and remain in the workforce; flexibility in schedules to address child care needs, along with work-site child care centers; paid sick leave mandated for all employers; and a universal basic income.

Dr. Estela Rivero, Research Associate with Notre Dame’s Pulte Institute for Global Development, stated that the COVID 19 pandemic has exacerbated the already limited opportunities for women to gain financial independence. “Time is one of our most precious resources,” she said, and women are now forced to spend more hours doing unpaid labor compared to men.

In the U.S., her studies show that amid the pandemic women ages 30-40 spend an average of 60 hours per week in paid and unpaid labor. Men spend 57 hours, primarily in paid labor.

In Mexico, women spend 80 hours a week in paid and unpaid labor, while men spend 70 hours primarily in paid labor. If a member of the household becomes ill, women spend an additional 10 hours per week caring for sick people. Overall, women’s sleep is decreased by 5 hours.

“One positive note is this: as family members spend more time at home, they get to see what women do to keep the household running,” said Rivero, expressing hope that this will lead to a shift in attitude about the value of women’s work.

Mimi Lind, Venice Family Clinic’s Director of Behavioral Health and Domestic Violence Services, said that the rise in domestic violence during the pandemic coincides with the loss of traditional lifelines such as shelters, the court system, and health care.

Lind defined the many types of abuse, which include physical and sexual violence; forcing a victim to be financially dependent; name-calling, shaming and using social media to hold power and control over a partner or ex-partner.

Women isolated at home with an abusive partner cannot call a hotline for help because of fears that the violent domestic partner or adolescent child might overhear, resulting in increased violence. As more health care services are conducted via tele-medicine, women also lose personal access to doctors and nurses who often ask about partner abuse when a woman comes into a hospital.

Some protections do remain for women living in Los Angeles County, said Lind. Courts within the county can still provide restraining orders against the abusive partner. Additionally, some domestic violence hot-lines can provide women with vouchers which would allow her to leave an abusive situation and go to a hotel or motel temporarily.

Duncan closed the briefing by likening the pandemic to a global war. “This could be the Third World War that we are facing.” Like her fellow panelists, she looked for signs of hope in what her agency describes as “the shadow pandemic.”

“In all the wars we have faced across the years, the fatalities have mainly been men, but the consequences are born by women because women then have to manage the households.”

“Whenever we experience this kind of social change, it also comes with changes in gender relationships,” said Duncan adding: “In some cases, it allows women to advance more because they become the household heads.”

image credit: Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash

Developing World Reels From Pandemic Fallout

More than 265 million around the world currently face food insecurity in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, and several million have lost their life-line of remittances, according to experts speaking at an ethnic media conference May 8 on the pandemic’s impact on the developing world.  

“COVID-19 is expected to double the number of people facing food insecurity. The world has never seen a pandemic like this,” said Dulce Gamboa, associate for Latino relations at Bread for the World.

Remittances — money sent from people working abroad to their families back home — have taken a huge hit, said Demetrios Papademetriou, who co-founded the Migration Policy Institute and is currently a Distinguished Transatlantic Fellow at the Washington DC-based think tank. The World Bank has estimated that $142 billion has been lost in remittances, as foreign workers lose their jobs to the coronavirus crisis.

“Remittances are an essential lifeline for people who receive that money. They will be thinner and more precarious,” said Papademetriou.

He equated the COVID-19 crisis to the decade-long Great Depression in the U.S. in the 1930s, and characterized it as an “economic abyss.” 

Daniel Nepstad, President and Founder of Earth Innovation Institute, discussed the impact of the pandemic on the Amazon rainforest, the largest tropical rainforest in the world. The summer months are typically burning season in the forest, as villagers burn patches to use for agricultural purposes.

In a normal year, thousands of people would get respiratory illnesses as forests burn. This year, however, Nepstad predicted an increased number of deaths as the COVID-19 virus attacks people whose immune systems are already compromised.

In Manaus, Brazil, deep in the Amazon rainforest, Nepstad reported that mass graves have been erected for those succumbing to the virus. In Loreto, Peru, a lack of oxygen bottles has contributed to a high mortality rate from COVID. 

The biggest threat to the rain forest comes from people fleeing there as a last resort, Nepstad said. Farmers can no longer bring their products to markets, which have shuttered in the wake of the pandemic. More than 200,000 migrants have left Lima, Peru by foot, walking through deserts and up into the highlands and from there to the rainforest for some measure of food security.

Nepstad urged the global community to support farmers in the Amazon — providing them with seed capital to grow tree crops which have a longer life-span — and also advocated for the formalizing of supply chains and for fair price support. 

“Now is the time for solidarity, listening to local leaders and understanding what they need,” said Nepstad. “We tend to demonize the people that are clearing forests, but I think it’s important to have more nuance there.”

“Lots of people are extracting food by clearing the rain forests. We eat that food around the world.”

Even if there is no surge in food prices, the global hunger pandemic will continue, said Gamboa, noting that the situation will deteriorate most rapidly in countries where a large percentage of the labor force works in the informal economy.

Yemen currently faces the worst food insecurity crisis, said Gamboa, with 53 percent of its population — almost 16 million people — facing starvation. 

Sudan and Nigeria are likely to be hit by famines, she said. Zimbabwe, South Africa, the Congo, and the Horn of Africa are also facing massive food insecurity issues due to high inflation, poor harvests and drought. 

“Malnourished people have less effective immune systems,” said Gamboa, adding that a child who is malnourished during his first 1,000 days of life will face a lifetime of stunted growth, both physically and intellectually.

“People are saying ‘we’re going to die of hunger before we die of coronavirus.’”

“The U.S. needs to have strong leadership to help millions of people around the world, including women and children,” stated Gamboa. 

Global migration has ground to a halt as countries close their borders and restrict incoming travel, said Papademetriou. However, there has been a significant amount of labor migration as people in developing countries return home, he said.

“There has been an elite consensus that has allowed migration to continue to be large and to thrive because of the demography of many of the rich countries,” said Papademetriou. “We will have to see if that elite consensus continues to hold as this pandemic continues,” he said, adding that countries will have to reassess afresh the number of immigrant workers they need, especially in the agricultural sector.

Papademetriou said it was too early to assess whether the U.S. would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants, many of whom are now considered essential workers.

“I have spent 14 years of attempting to come up with compromises that legislators on both sides were able to support. We have failed every single time.”

“The last time we failed big was in 2013 under President Obama. So it’s difficult for me to be optimistic,” said Papademetriou.


This article was published with permission from the author.