Susan Estrich: Life in Los Angeles in a pandemic
Susan Estrich: You can do it by race; you can do it by class; you can do it by neighborhood, but it's all the same. We know who the most vulnerable among us are. The question is what we will do with the knowledge.
Los Angeles is on the verge of becoming the world's biggest COVID hot spot in the world. "The epicenter," we say, shaking our heads. How did this happen?
"It's not so bad here," we say, we being the people who populate what look like suburban communities; beach towns; and places defined as cool, such as West Hollywood and Venice.
I want to tell them that viruses don't respect neighborhood borders, but none of the neighborhoods in my immediate vicinity have been hit nearly as hard as the working Hispanic families living on top of one another in East LA.
The county has just released numbers that rank cities and neighborhoods according to the rate of infection per 100,000 in the last 14 days, leaving eight pages of rankings when you exclude communities with too few cases to rank.
My test: How far will I have to go to find the wealthy white communities? I guessed page 6, but I was wrong. They were on page 7, where I found Sherman Oaks, Beverly Hills, Hancock Park, Venice and Santa Monica. I had to go to page 8 to find the Marina and Malibu and Pacific Palisades; and on the bottom of the page, there was Palos Verdes Estates, Westlake Village and the Angeles National Forest. If you have read this far, you know why I laughed. Angeles National Forest ...
Over summer, health officials announced that they had managed to reduce the racial disparities in the rate of infection, as the curve flattened. In early December, they warned that COVID was infecting Hispanics at twice the rate of whites. That was two weeks ago.
The rankings for the last 14 days make clear where the epicenter is: neighborhoods where Hispanics account for more than 80% or 90% of the residents. East LA, which is 96% Hispanic; Boyle Heights, 94.5% Hispanic; and Pacoima, 89% Hispanic, are in the top 10.
Remember, Hispanics account for 49% of the county's population, followed by whites at 29%, Asian Americans at 12% and Blacks at 9%. The percentage of Hispanics and Asians has been growing, while the Black community has gotten smaller. Hispanics do the lion's share of essential work in this city, and I am talking about police officers (the Los Angeles Police Department is 48% Hispanic), nurses and nurses' aides, the cooks who are still hanging in there at the restaurants, the folks working minimum-wage jobs that have been deemed essential. And they live in dense surrounding areas, often in multigenerational homes.
They are also the people who come to our homes to clean, help us care for our children, keep our gardens shipshape. It used to be said that the population of Beverly Hills doubles on Monday morning, as the city becomes half-Hispanic for the day.
They can bring you the virus, which is not a reason to fire them but to be careful and give a Christmas bonus. Because they need it.
I drowned in numbers, to say the obvious. But the mortality rates still shocked me. Hispanics have a longer life expectancy than whites, by about three years. But adjusted for age, they are dying at almost three times the rate of whites (whites at 46 per 100,000, Hispanics at 130 per 100,000) and a 50% higher rate than Blacks (84 per 100,000).
As for neighborhoods, areas where less than 10% of the population are poor are dying at the rate of 44 per 100,000. It doubles to 85 when you have 10% to 20% area poverty, jumps to 113 per 100,000 when you have 20% to 30% and then shoots to 159 per 100,000 in any area with more than 30%.
You can do it by race; you can do it by class; you can do it by neighborhood, but it's all the same. We know who the most vulnerable among us are.
The question is what we will do with the knowledge.
Susan Estrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.