Poverty Rate Seen Rising Fastest for Latino Children

By Millicent Lawton — September 11, 1991 3 min read

Despite having a large proportion of working, married parents, Latino children slipped into poverty in the 1980’s at a faster rate than either white or black children, a new Children’s Defense Fund report has found.

While Latino children represent just 11 percent of U.S. children, they accounted for nearly half of the total increase in the number of poor children in the past decade, according to the advocacy group’s report, “Latino Child Poverty in the United States.”

More than 1 million Latino children joined the ranks of the poor between 1979 and 1989, the last year for which official poverty data were available.

By 1989, more than one in three of the nation’s Latino children 2.6 million of 7.2 million youngsters-were poor.

Nationwide, more than 12 million children, or one in five, are poor.

While the rates at which white and black children joined the ranks of poor between 1979 and 1989 increased by 25.4 percent and 6.1 percent, respectively, the poverty rate for Latino children increased by 29.3 percent, the report says.

In 1989, 36.2 percent of Latino children were poor, compared with 43.7 percent of blacks and 11.5 percent of non-Latino whites.

Even looking at national-origin subgroups, Latino children face poverty rates two to four times that of non-Latino whites, the study found. In 1989, the child-poverty rate was 48.4 percent for Puerto Ricans, 37.1 percent for Mexicans, 26.1 percent for Central and South Americans, 28.4 percent for other Latinos, and 23.8 percent for children of Cuban origin.

The increase in poverty over the 10-year period studied occurred even though almost half of poor Latino children live with beth parents, the report says, and two-thirds of poor Latino families with children had at least one member of the household who worked for all or part of the year. But immigration of Latinos is not to blame, according to the study. Even without the impact of immigration, the Latino child-poverty rate would still be far higher than that of non-Latino white children.

Indeed, immigrants, the report found, are as likely to work, and, in some cases, more likely to do so than other Americans. For example, the study says, Mexican-American male immigrants have a higher laborforce-participation rate than non-Latino white males.

Several Factors Cited

The report pinpoints several causes of Latino child poverty.

One important factor, the study says, is parents’ low hourly wages. Latino families with children are more likely to be headed by parents without a high-school diploma, making their prospects for adequately paying jobs more tenuous.

Fewer than a third of those heading poor Latino families have high-school diplomas, the report found, compared with more than half of poor white and black family heads.

Also cited among the factors influencing Latino poverty are employment discrimination, the lesser likelihood of Latino women to work outside the home, and the growing number of female-headed households.

In addition, the report says, Latino child poverty can be traced to the slightly larger number of children in poor Latino families than in white or black families, the fact that Latino families are more likely than white families to be headed by persons younger than 30, and the declining effectiveness of government cash-assistance programs.

For all children, the costs of poverty can be enormous, the study says.

Regardless of race or ethnicity, poor children are much more likely than those in more affluent circumstances to suffer developmental delay and damage, to drop out of high school, and to give birth during their teenage years, the report notes.

The finding about poverty among families with working parents was perhaps the study’s most significant, said Sonia Perez, a poverty-policy analyst with the National Council of La Raza.

It shows that, even though Latinos are marrying, working, and “doing all the things they’re supposed to do,” Ms. Perez said, they are still unable to lift themselves above the poverty line.

The report is available from the Children’s Defense Fund, 122 C St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001;telephone (202) 628-8787.

A version of this article appeared in the September 11, 1991 edition of Education Week as Poverty Rate Seen Rising Fastest for Latino Children