With 2021 thankfully in the rear-view mirror, the collective hope is that the new year will bring about much needed positive change, particularly for California’s Latino community. The data clearly underscore how significantly coronavirus wreaked havoc on the Latino community. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Hispanics and Latinos were 1.7 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than our non-Hispanic white counterparts, as well as 4.1 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 and, sadly, 2.8 times more likely to die from COVID-19.
Thankfully we have the tools to correct some of these horrendous pandemic statistics – increased vaccination rates and the ability of businesses, large and small, to use technology to successfully engage in commerce and hopefully keep the doors open.
However, there is another challenge to the Latino community that is quietly, for now, brewing in the United States Congress – a challenge that unless stopped will have a harmful impact on the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Latino-owned businesses in California and across the country.
For the past several months members of Congress have been working on a package of five anti-trust bills that seek to regulate many aspects of the technology sector, specifically its ability to operate in and drive America’s economy. Taken together, members of the California Congressional delegation – the nation’s largest – must not lose site of the fact that any regulation targeting the biggest global tech companies, most headquartered in the Golden State, will undoubtedly spill over and impact small, minority- and women-owned businesses.
For small business owners, particularly those owned by Latino, African American and Asian businesses owners, affordable technology options represent a lifeline that enabled us to keep the doors open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today these businesses, and the consumers who shop at them, rely more and more on the digital tools in which they invest to keep the lights on to continue to serve customers than they did pre-pandemic.
As one of the few organizations focused on issues of importance to Latino consumers, the Latino Consumer Federation is legitimately concerned about the package of bills pending before the House of Representatives – H.R. 3826, H.R. 3849, H.R. 3816, and H.R. 3825.
California consumers as a whole should be leery about the package of these technology bills that look to enact so-called tech “reforms” from folks who generally have a hard time trying to figure out the difference between an HDMI cable and a mouse.
In California, nearly 2 million people are employed by the technology sector, resulting in an economic impact of more than $520 billion annually to California’s economy. For small business owners, particularly those in southern California owned by Latino, African American and Asian businesses owners, technology options were a lifeline that enabled them to keep their businesses open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For workers and consumers, this so-called “reform package” could have the chilling effect of suppressing wage growth and negatively impacting consumers. For example, H.R. 3816, the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, would result in separate rules for online marketplaces compared to those governing brick and mortar businesses. The end result will create a highly inequitable landscape for small businesses, especially for African American, Latino, veteran and women owned small businesses already struggling.
These kinds of life-altering impacts, on the heels of what has transpired the past two years due to COVID, is troubling. Unless defeated, this legislation’s unintended impacts would deliver a critical blow to Latino business owners and consumers – impacts that are unwarranted, unnecessary and preventable.
Enacting smart policy solutions that serve to strengthen, not weaken, California’s ability to innovate and lead in the technology marketplace, particularly during such uncertain times is a must for workers, consumers and businesses.
We should all be wary when Congress attempts to reign in one of America’s largest economic sectors but most particularly one that calls California its home. Passing any broad package of tech “reforms” would likely create more problems than the legislation purports to solve. Worse still, it will likely exacerbate the struggles that many Latino businesses and consumers have seen the past two years and prolong our community’s ability to have a better year.