Why more Hispanic children are living in poverty: A Q&A
Published: Friday, December 30, 2011, 8:07 AM
More Hispanic children — 6.1 million — are living in poverty than children of any other racial and ethnic group, according to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of 2010 U.S. Census data. To find out what’s behind the numbers, editorial writer Linda Ocasio spoke with Elsa Candelario, executive director of the Hispanic Family Center of Southern New Jersey; Kristin Nicely Colangelo, the center’s program director for health, education and family prevention; and Daniel Santo Pietro, chairman of the public policy committee of the Latino Action Network.
Q: What were your thoughts when you read the poll numbers?
Candelario: It seems Hispanics have been overrepresented in negative statistics as long as I can remember: drop-out rates, teen pregnancy rates, health outcomes, higher level of diabetes and heart disease, that kind of thing. Even those who are documented, and second and third generation, are living in poverty. Forty percent of Hispanics are uninsured, not because they are undocumented, but mainly because they work in small businesses and service sector jobs where they are not covered. Large numbers got into deceptive subprime mortgages that wiped out their savings. Statewide, Hispanics rent far more than own. State policies and initiatives ought to be directed toward turning these numbers around.
Q: How does the number of undocumented affect the numbers?
Santo Pietro: Many undocumented don’t show up in Census numbers. People are caught in all kinds of gray areas here — some undocumented, some in between who are trying to gain legal status. They’re suffering from the vagaries of immigration law. There were 400,000 deportations nationwide last year, and 350,000 of them were of a noncriminal nature. They were working parents who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Families lost a wage earner and they’re in crisis.
Q: What other factors affect Hispanic families?
Santo Pietro: Specific industries that employed Hispanics were hit hard by the economic downturn. Construction was one of the areas hardest hit and 25 percent of the Hispanic workforce is involved with construction nationwide. In New Jersey, landscaping and housing construction were hard hit. Another portion of the population is involved in small businesses. A large portion isn’t college educated. In general, people without college education are caught in a pinch.
Candelario: They also work in restaurants, bodegas, beauty salons. Landscaping is a big one in the spring and summer. Many of these small businesses have been affected by the recession, which has affected employment opportunities.
Nicely Colangelo: Teen unemployment has gone through the roof. Lots of retailers have closed and those are the jobs teens entering the job market seek out. We have many populations vying for low-level jobs who were not vying for them several years ago.
Q: Are you seeing people who were once middle class, or mostly those who were living close to the edge of poverty?
Candelario: It’s both the middle class and those close to the edge. We see it in the Puerto Rican, Mexican and Dominican communities, the three largest groups in Camden. These are families with multiple children, who need concrete support, such as help with utilities, mortgage, food, medical expenses, back rent. They are facing all kinds of issues regarding the necessities of life and making ends meet.
Nicely Colangelo: We have a high increase in the number of people coming in for very basic services. It used to be a matter of case management and they were able to move forward. Now, there’s no light at the end of tunnel, they’re in a hole, with no living-wage employment. Many are going into training programs, but there are no jobs waiting for them. It’s really devastating.
Q: How have state cuts affected these families?
Nicely Colangelo: We are seeing families that were relatively stable coming in with no employment opportunities. Puerto Ricans (who are U.S. citizens at birth) can access programs easier. Family struggles have gotten worse, with after-school program cuts. New Jersey After 3 was hit hard in the first wave of cuts last year. New Jersey Family Care eliminated many immigrant parents. Families say they are struggling with the decision of whether they can afford to work, because they could no longer afford child care or health insurance.
Q: What are the consequences of having an increase of Hispanic children in poverty?
Santo Pietro: Hispanic children are becoming a larger percentage of the student body around the state. If we’re not successful in educating these children, New Jersey won’t have a workforce to get us out of recession and into recovery. You need to see these children as part of a stronger state and thriving economy. We have to do something to turn this around. It’s a benefit to the whole state.