Data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau show that incomes for the nation's households remained stable and poverty declined between 1999 and 2000. This good news largely reflects how well families and households were doing a year ago and that improvements in the economic status of American families and households also included the nation's Latinos. For example:
For the fourth consecutive year the median household income for Latinos increased 5.3% in real terms from $31,767 in 1999 to $33,447 in 2000, the highest ever recorded. The income gains for households was led by increases in income among married-couple and female-headed households whose median incomes increased 5.8% and 10.2%, respectively.
In 2000, the poverty rate for Latinos decreased from 22.8% in 1999 to a record low of 21.2%, and the poverty rate for Latino children, specifically, fell to its lowest level ever recorded (28.0%).
The data reveal that the economic status of Latino families and households has improved over the decade of the 1990s largely due to high levels of labor force participation and record low levels of unemployment for Latinos. In 2000, the record levels of unemployment for Latino workers remained steady at 5.7%, compared to 11.6% in 1992.
However, while the new Census data showed real gains, significant gaps in income and poverty between Latinos and other Americans still persist, and other data show some troubling signs of economic stagnation for families. For example:
The poverty rate for Hispanic married-couple families with children in 2000 was 16.9%, almost two times higher than the rate for Black married-couple families (6.3%) and almost three times higher than the rate for similar White families (3.8%).
The poverty rates for Latino and Black children, 28.0% and 30.9% respectively, are roughly two times higher than the poverty rate for White children (9.4%).
Although the poverty rate for Hispanic female-headed households (34.2%) has decreased more than the other racial and ethnic groups between 1993 and 2000 (17.4%), it is twice as high as the poverty rate for White female-headed households (16.9%).
Latinos have the highest proportion of those without health insurance (32.0%) compared to Blacks (19.5%) and Whites (9.7%). The rate of uninsured Hispanic children is 24.9%. By comparison, the rate of uninsured Black and White children is 13.6% and 7.3%, respectively.
The poverty rate for Latino males working full-time (7.2%) continues to be more than three times higher than for similar Black and White male workers, 1.8% and 1.4% respectively.
The poverty rate for Hispanic and Black workers was 11.4% and 10.2%, respectively, compared to 4.0% for Whites.
Most importantly, these disparities are even more troubling when considering the direction of the economy, which has experienced a marked downturn in the year 2001. U.S. economic growth has slowed in recent months and in August the unemployment rate rose by 0.4 percentage points to 4.9%, the highest level since September 1997. The unemployment rate for Latinos has stayed relatively stable since 1999. However, as employment declines across the nation, the potential for the unemployment rate of Hispanics to reach the double-digit highs of 1991 through 1994 increases. Approximately one in six (16.9%) Latinos are employed in manufacturing occupations. Recent large drops in the manufacturing industry are contributing to the striking employment declines of the past months. Also, Hispanics compose 21.0% of the hotel industry's employees and a number of other industries that are likely to be especially hard hit by recent events.!
These new data are especially relevant as Congress considers measures to stimulate the economy, including President George W. Bush's proposed $75 billion stimulus package. Given these figures, any proposed plan should be targeted to the workers and industries most affected by the downturn, provide unemployment, worker retraining, food, nutrition, and health assistance for families with newly unemployed workers, and help generate economic activity in hard-pressed communities across the nation.