Advocates Warn: As Latinos Become Majority, Their Well-Being Must Improve

Severe poverty and low literacy rates are among the challenges facing a new generation.

(Photo: Cristian Lazzari/Getty Images)

Oct 1, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Sophia Lepore is an editorial intern at TakePart.

They’re one of the fastest-growing demographics in the nation, and as a new report suggests, the challenges facing America’s 18.2 million Latino children are likely to affect the economic health of the nation.

The report, released Thursday by the National Council of La Raza in partnership with the Population Reference Bureau, detailed how Latino children under age 18 are more likely to live in severe poverty, have lower literacy rates, and live in unaffordable housing than their peers from other racial or ethnic backgrounds.

The report, Toward a More Equitable Future: The Trends and Challenges Facing America’s Latino Children, used data from the Latino Kids Database Explorer. That includes nearly 30 national- and state-level indicators of well-being, including education, health, and income, for Latinos under age 18—ninety-five percent of whom are U.S. citizens.

“The well-being of Latino children is at the core of all of NCLR’s work, but what this new report makes clear is how important the state of these children should be to our fellow Americans,” NCLR president and CEO Janet Murguía said in a statement. “These children are America’s future coworkers, teachers, voters, parents, consumers, taxpayers, homebuyers, entrepreneurs, and leaders. Ensuring that this population reaches its full potential is essential to the success of our economy. Investing in Hispanic children today is an investment in America’s tomorrow.”

RELATED: America’s Teachers Still Don’t Think Black and Latino Kids Are Smart

In particular, the report’s authors found that Latino children continue to feel the effects of the Great Recession, more so than other demographic groups. About 31 percent of Latino kids were living in poverty in 2015, more than twice the roughly 13 percent of white kids living in poverty. The 46 percent of Latino children living in unaffordable housing in 2014 is also “substantially higher than the rate for white children (26 percent) but lower than the rate for black children (49 percent),” the report’s authors wrote.

“In order to help Latino kids, we need to be helping Latino families and parents as well,” Patricia Foxen, NCLR’s deputy director of research and a coauthor of the report, told TakePart. A federal minimum wage increase to $15 would boost the financial fortunes of about 8 million Latinos, she said.

One bright spot in the data is that the on-time high school graduation rate for Latinos jumped to 78 percent in 2013, up from 67 percent in 2004. But literacy levels for Latinos continued to lag. Just 21 percent of Latino eighth graders read at a proficient level in 2015, higher than the 16 percent rate for black students but less than half the 44 percent of white students.

RELATED: Latino Parents Value College More Than Anybody Else

Some states, such as Virginia and Maryland, have had more success with boosting Latino achievement and household wealth. “They have strong economies, they really invest in their schools, and they have paid very close attention to the fact that they have this growing Latino population,” Foxen said. Both government and private institutions must make a greater commitment to the health and well-being of Latinos “so they can thrive and develop into healthy, productive adults,” she said.