Jesus Monge has worked as a day laborer since arriving in the United States in 1981 from El Salvador. In recent months the 71-year-old jornalero has been unable to work as jobs dry out and because his body hardly allows it anymore.
“I have a lot of knee problems and I use a cane to walk,” Monge recently said while at the Central American Resource Center day laborer center in Los Angeles known as CARECEN.
The jornalero, who is a U.S citizen, receives $900 a month from his Social Security benefits, but he says this amount does not cover all of his expenses. He pays almost $500 for a bedroom he rents and sends money to his wife in El Salvador for her personal expenses.
“I can barely afford to buy food and other things for me,” said Monge.
Now, the house where he lives is in the process of being sold and must find another place to live.
“I have been looking but rooms are $1,400 and above. I don’t know where to go anymore, ”said Monge. “I’m afraid I’ll be staying on the streets.”
José Valladares, 58, another day labor worker at the CARECEN center, said since the pandemic began, he has not been able to find any jobs and due to the lack of a legal status in the country, he cannot apply for unemployment.
He’s been sleeping on the streets for months.
“The situation is sad for me, but with whom do I complain to if they don’t give us any help anyway,” said Valladares, who has been a day laborer for 35 years.
Before the pandemic, Valladares said he managed to get jobs often, but since businesses closed and the recession hit, his clients stopped hiring him.
“They talk to me to ask how I am doing, but that’s it. They don’t offer me a job,” Valladares explained.
He’s grateful for his good health — and that he’s not been infected with COVID-19.
Poverty among the elderly Latino community
A study by the University of California, Los Angeles indicates that an older adult in California needs more than double the minimum wage to survive. Latinos lead this situation.
An adult over 65 who rents a one-bedroom home in California needs $27,816 per year, more than double the federal poverty level of $12,490 per year, according to the analysis
At the same time, more Californians are aging. In 2016, the population of older adults in California was estimated to be 5.5 million, but by 2060 it is estimated it will reach 13.5 million, according to Ninez Ponce, director of the Center for Health Policy Research.
Steven Wallace, deputy director of the health policy center, criticized the use of one federal poverty measure in a country as large and diverse as the United States. The $12,490 figure for a single senior “applies to all locations, and does not take into account differences in the cost of living in different areas of the country,” Wallace noted.
The expert highlighted the difference in costs. In Los Angeles, for example, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,956 and in San Francisco it’s $2,720.
While 35.9% of Latinos over the age of 65 who live alone have incomes below the poverty line, another 31.5% have incomes above that level, but below another indicator used for California. In that measure, a total of 67.4% of Latino seniors live in poverty.
This number surpasses Asians with 63.4%, Blacks with 61.1% and whites with 40.6%.
Despite the bleak economic outlook, day laborers hesitate to return to their countries of origin.
“In El Salvador there is a lot of crime and people think that because you go from the United States that you have a lot of money,” Monge said.
The study prescribes job training to increase income when workers are still productive, extend pension coverage, increase affordable housing, and expand Medi-Cal and Medicare services, among other actions.
Jacqueline García is a reporter with La Opinión in Los Angeles. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.