Poll captures economic toll of COVID-19 pandemic on Latinos in Colorado, Western Slope

64% of respondents said they had trouble paying rent or mortgage at some point during pandemic

A patient receives his COVID-19 vaccine at the Voces Unidas vaccine clinic in Glenwood Springs earlier this year.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Latinos on Colorado’s Western Slope were hit harder than those statewide when it came to getting enough food to eat and paying rent or mortgage during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a poll commissioned by Roaring Fork Valley-based Voces Unidas de las Montañas and several partners.

A poll of 1,000 Latino adults registered to vote in Colorado showed that 33% had trouble getting enough food to eat at some point during the pandemic. However, that figure was 40% among Latinos on the Western Slope, according to the same poll.

Statewide, 50% of Latinos had trouble paying their rent or mortgage during the pandemic while on the Western Slope 64% of respondents reported difficulties, according to poll results.

“It’s just more expensive in the mountain region, so it’s not a surprise,” Alex Sanchez, executive director of Voces Unidas, said Tuesday. “We’ve been hearing it since day one of the pandemic.”

Voces Unidas was founded in May 2020 as an advocacy group for Latinos in the Roaring Fork, Eagle and Lower Colorado River valleys. It was part of a coalition of four Latino advocacy groups who commissioned the polling by BSP Research on Aug. 16-31. The political science department at Metropolitan State University in Denver also contributed funds for the research. Full results will be released in November. Results related to the pandemic were released Tuesday.

Sanchez said the results would be used to form the organization’s local policy agenda and legislative priorities.

Sanchez said his organization witnessed during the pandemic that systems designed to help people in times of need “do not work for our community.”

For example, food banks often provided processed goods that were often high in saturated fats rather than working with the Latino community to provide fresh foods they preferred, he said. Voces Unidas teamed with Aspen Skiing Co. during the height of the pandemic to distribute food more aligned with what Latino’s wanted and needed, he said.

In addition, despite good intentions, vaccination drives weren’t effective at luring Latinos, Sanchez said, so Voces Unidas stepped in. The organization worked with Gov. Jared Polis’ administration to get vaccines, enlist doctors and nurses and provide the service in ways that attracted Latinos, according to Sanchez. Workers in low-wage service industries often couldn’t get enough time off to get vaccinated, so Voces Unidas established vaccination sites close to high-concentration work centers.

The waiting area at the Voces Unidas COVID-19 vaccine clinic earlier this year.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“We have no business vaccinating people but we had to,” Sanchez said. “Hundreds if not thousands were coming.”

The effort vaccinated about 3,000 people and provided a model for public health departments in areas with a high population of Latino residents, he said. However, he fears that any lessons learned will be forgotten as booster shots become more available.

Additional key findings of the statewide poll included:

* 60% of Latinos had work hours or pay cut, or had someone in their household lose a job at some point in the pandemic.

* 56% of respondents said they had trouble paying their bills or utilities.

* 14% said they moved or changed their housing situation because of pandemic hardships.

* 37% said they are “very confident” they can pay for basic living expenses such as good, housing and utilities.

* 43% of respondents said someone in their household had COVID-19.

No results specific to the Roaring Fork Valley’s Latino community were available. Nevertheless, the poll results should serve as a “reality check” for the valley, Sanchez said, because problems for Latinos in the valley are often exacerbated by the high cost of living, specifically housing.

In addition to the poll, there was an online survey that cast a wider net than the poll and Voces Unidas held a full-day, in-person meeting with Latino leaders from Aspen to Parachute to get a better sense of their issues of concern.

Sanchez said Voces Unidas would advocate for more housing programs to aid low-wage workers in the service industries. By designing programs to help those with the highest access barriers to affordable housing, it helps all people in need of affordable housing, he contended.

He said the poll results confirm that the pandemic took a significant toll on the economic well being of Latino families across Colorado.

“It is almost impossible to overstate the pandemic’s impact on the Latino community in Colorado,” Sanchez said. “When it comes to basic economic indicators like having the money to pay bills in order to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table, the survey provides a sobering glimpse at how hard the economic recession caused by the pandemic has been for the state’s largest ethnic minority.”