August 22, 2008

Steve Padilla

Progress!?

Some steps forward and some steps back. Progress it seems always comes about in this way, giving rise to hope and to frustration at the same time. For Latinos in the United States it is no different. This column has reported in recent months of the strides Latinos are making as a minority population in areas of education, building businesses and political clout. No doubt those trends continue and are important. But as the nation’s largest and fastest-growing “minority group” who make up 15% of the current U.S. population and projected to comprise 29% by 2050, we face on going challenges which must be overcome according to recent studies by the Pew Hispanic Center.

When it comes to economic status, Latinos still reside primarily on the lower rungs of the middle class ladder. A study on middle class status and attitudes about economic conditions revealed that the term “middle class” is as the report states; “as much a state of mind as it is a financial condition.” As for attitudes that may be true, but the numbers on income represent much more than just a state of mind.

Four categories are described: Top of the Class, representing the extreme upper middle class with positive future outlooks, attitudes and incomes which approach those of upper class Americans; the Satisfied Middle Class, representing those with general satisfaction about their lives and optimistic attitudes of the future despite comparatively modest incomes; the Struggling Middle Class, representing one in six middle class Americans and disproportionately composed of women and minorities; and the Anxious Middle Class, representing just under 25% of the middle class, who are largely dissatisfied with their economic lives and worried about the future. Despite gains in access to higher education and incomes, Latinos and Hispanics comprise over 31% of those in either the Anxious or Struggling Middle Class categories.

Recent trends in job growth for Latinos confirm and compound the middle class statistics. The crash of the housing market and drop in the construction industry has contributed to a rise in unemployment among Latinos in the U.S. to 6.5%, well above the national average and the rate for all non-Hispanics. In recent years, construction related jobs had helped sustain job growth for Latino workers – a dramatic reversal. What are worse are the conditions of Latino women who saw an even greater rise in unemployment than their male counterparts. These trends have great impact on the nation as a whole, when you consider that Hispanic working-age population growth in the last year accounted for 41% of growth in the U.S. working-age population as a whole.

Despite some continuing bad news, some silver lining remains. A report just released by both the Pew Center and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation this week deals with Hispanics and access to health care, and the level of knowledge about health issues in general held by Latinos and Hispanics. The Latino population continues to be younger on average than the total population and adults have a much lower prevalence of many chronic diseases. But as I have commented before, the level of diabetes in our population and the numbers of overweight and obese exceed those among our non-Hispanic countrymen. On the other hand, nearly 25% of Latinos report having no regular health care provider. This was shown to be significant even among those who are high school graduates, those who were born in the United States and who have health insurance. Perhaps due to the large percentage of young people in the Latino population, nearly 41% state the reason is they are rarely ill. Interestingly, more Latinos report obtaining health information from media such as television and the Internet then from medical professionals. The study also revealed a higher than average level of knowledge among Hispanics about diseases such as diabetes, which afflict them at above-average rates.

Interesting information? Much more. Communities change themselves and make change in the world by having the power to move people to action. Information begets knowledge and wisdom, and knowledge is power. Progress yes and no. Some steps forward and some steps back, but still moving.

Padilla served as Chula Vista Mayor from 2002-06 and on the California Coastal Commission from 2005-07. He is President/CEO of Aquarius Group, Inc. and can be contacted at: spadilla@aquariusgroup.org.

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