TAMPA — Brayan De los Ríos has worked in restaurants half his life, since he was 20.
Not once did he step away — until the pandemic hit, and the Tampa restaurant where he worked as assistant manager laid off staff.
“It was difficult and painful,” said De los Ríos, a naturalized U.S. citizen who immigrated legally from Peru with his parents as a minor.
He dipped into savings to pay the $1,000 monthly rent on his apartment in Brandon. He used credit cards and loans from friends to get by.
And he became one of the grimmer statistics reflected in a sweeping new study on Hispanics and COVID-19: About half of Hispanic adults say they or someone in their household has lost a job or taken a pay cut since the outbreak more than a year ago. The figure for U.S. adults as a whole is 44 percent.
Another finding from the survey by the Pew Research Center: Living here without legal status makes it much harder to stay above water financially. Among Hispanic immigrants without a green card, 48 percent reported having trouble paying bills compared to 35 percent among those who have green cards and 26 percent of those who are naturalized citizens.
The bilingual online survey of 3,375 Latinos in the United States was conducted March 15 to March 28. The margin of error was 2.8 percent. Results were released July 15.
“We knew that Latinos have been experiencing a financial impact due to the pandemic,” Jens Manuel Krogstad, one of the study’s authors, told the Tampa Bay Times. “Our survey tries to explore more about how they experienced hardship amid pandemic and what kind of hardships we are talking about.”
The employment picture is improving for Hispanics. The jobless rate hit 18.5 percent at the start of the pandemic and had fallen to 7.3 percent by June, still above pre-pandemic levels of 5 percent and lower.
Things are looking up for De los Ríos, too. An uncle called him offering him a place to live and a job in the kitchen at a grocery story catering to the Latino community in Brandon.
“It was like a new awakening,” De los Ríos said.
He put the worst setback of his career behind him and has even higher hopes for the future despite the spread of the new, highly contagious delta variant.
“It is not an overnight process, but that moment is going to come,” De los Ríos said. “We must not lose hope. This is a strong country.”
The Pew survey also turned up a hopeful sentiment.
Most Hispanics think the worst of the pandemic is behind us — a reversal of the findings from April 2020, four months into the pandemic, when the survey found that 75 percent of Hispanics said the worst was yet to come.
The economic hit taken by Hispanics parallels the disproportionate health affect they’ve experienced during the pandemic. Hispanics account for about 18.5 percent of the U.S. population, but 29 percent of cumulative COVID-19 cases and 19 percent of the deaths.
Lurvin Lizardo is one of those who fell ill. A housekeeper in Tampa and a Honduran community activist, Lizardo tested positive two weeks ago for COVID-19 and had to be hospitalized.
She had decided after months of hesitating that she would get the vaccination. Then she started to feel seriously ill.
“God knows why things happen,” said Lizardo, 48. “I am okay and I am recovering, but I felt really sick”.
Carlos Pagan, principal pastor of the largely Hispanic church The Nazarene in Brandon, said he is spending a lot of time helping people navigate the pandemic, especially now that infections are on the rise again.
“We know that we are living in difficult times, but sometimes a close friend is better than a distant relative,” said Pagan, 37, who is from Puerto Rico.
A father of four children and a coronavirus survivor, Pagan makes a point to speak with his congregation about the challenges they’re facing — unemployment and exposure to the coronavirus, among them.
Pagan was hospitalized for 10 days a year ago and doctors gave him just a 20 percent chance of surviving.
“Empathy, respect and love are the best medicine,” he said.
The Pew study also showed that relationships have helped people endure the pandemic. Almost 60 percent of respondents indicated they have helped family members or close friends by sending or loaning money, taking care of children or delivering groceries.