Maria Rangel came to Los Angeles from Colombia five years ago with her infant son and $500, hoping to realize the American dream.
And, she did.
"We had not much and now we have a home," said Rangel, who bought a condo two years ago.
The 35-year-old single mom credits the L.A.-based nonprofit New Economics for Women with providing the resources she needed to get on her feet and eventually become a homeowner.
"When I got involved, it was because I heard that they were giving away clothes for kids and diapers," she said. Then she sought counseling on affordable housing to help her rent an apartment and later attended workshops and programs for first-time homebuyers.
"We want to ensure that families are able to thrive from generation to generation," said New Economics for Women co-founder Bea Stotzer. "You cannot do that unless you leave a legacy of assets. We see homeownership as critical to that."
Founded in 1985, the Latina-led organization has served more than 17,000 individuals and families in Los Angeles county in the past year alone.
"For Latinas especially, they have been impacted by this incredible pandemic to a degree that no one really understands," Stotzer said.
Job losses and reduced wages have created a cascading crisis in housing, food, and economic stability for many women and families during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in the Latino community. Latinas are working on the front lines of the Covid crisis, and are disproportionately represented among health care and childcare workers, providing essential services.
"They are employed in industries that we now refer to as 'essential', but a year ago we were referring to them as wage workers or the 'working poor'," said Jacob William Faber, associate professor of sociology and public service at New York University.
And, a long-standing wage gap between people of color and Whites has contributed to an even wider wealth gap, especially for Latina women.
Research from the National Women's Law Center shows Latinas are typically paid just 55 cents for every dollar paid to White, non-Hispanic men. That wage gap means many can't save enough to afford a down payment on a home, start a business or save for retirement. As a result, data show single Latinas own only $100 in wealth for every $28,900 single White men have.
"We often think about assets as something that comes from careful planning and saving and prudent investing," Faber said. "But there's a lot more going on, income inequality, inheritance, discrimination."
"What's amazing now, because of Covid, it's almost even more accelerated," Stotzer said of this wealth gap. Not having the right wages is one factor. Other obstacles include not having access to capital, not having access to credit, she said.
Many Latinas also own or manage businesses in industries that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, including restaurants, personal care services, such as hair and nail salons, as well as retail and apparel. Many of those businesses have closed.
Yet Rangel, a freelance fashion designer, just landed a job running a new program. She's giving back to those seeking assistance from the same non-profit that helped her.
"It's like the knowledge that I have, I'm pouring out," Rangel said. "We're giving webinars on fashion. So we have pattern-making, sewing techniques, we have to know how to start a business."
That, Stotzer said, is the organization's mission, sparking economic mobility for women, particularly Latinas and their families, to create their own opportunities.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.