September 29, 2000

Positive Economic Indicators for Hispanics Reveal Opportunity to Focus on the Nation's Working Poor

Washington, D.C. — Data released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau show that the combination of a strong U.S. economy and hard work has continued to pay dividends for America's Latino families. For the fourth consecutive year, median income of Hispanic households rose while poverty for Latino families dropped. Data show that between 1998 and 1999 real median income for Latino households increased by 6.1% from $28,956 in 1998 to $30,735 in 1999. Meanwhile, the poverty rate for Hispanic families declined between 1998 and 1999 from 25.6% to 22.8%.

"This is good news for the nation, not just for Latinos, because our country's economic progress is linked to the well-being of Latino workers. The better off the community is, the better off we all are," said NCLR President Raul Yzaguirre.

The data also show that in 1999 the poverty rate for Hispanic children (30.3%) dropped to its lowest level since 1979 (28.0%). In addition, poverty declined for Hispanic families with children under 18 from 28.6% in 1998 to 25.0% in 1999, and between 1989 and 1999 real median income for Hispanic households rose by 5.0%.

As Yzaguirre pointed out, "For too long we saw poverty climbing and income falling for Latino families, but for the past four years the indicators have been in the right direction. This means that the economic strength of the Latino community is finally being tapped and that critical domestic investments in Latino workers and families are paying dividends."

However, while the data show that Latinos are making strides and are reaping the benefits of their hard work, comparative data show that there are still significant gaps between Latinos and other Americans. For example, while the poverty rate for Hispanic married-couple families in 1999 (14.2%) dropped to its lowest level since 1979 (13.1%), it remained almost four times that of similar While non-Hispanic families (3.3%). Moreover, the real median income for Hispanic female-headed households increased by 10.1% between 1998 and 1999 ($20,765), but remains significantly lower than for their White counterparts ($29,629).

As Yzaguirre emphasized, "A strong economy and hard work are not enough to level the playing field. In NCLR's two-year study of employment issues facing Latinos, we noted that there is still a fair share of `catching up' that needs to occur."

Yzaguirre cited the challenges facing the working poor, a large share of whom are Latino. "Now that income is on the rise and poverty is down, we should turn out attention to closing the gaps between Latinos and other Americans." For instance, the poverty rate for families with children under 18, with a worker working full-time, dropped between 1998 and 1999 for Hispanic families to 11.5% but remains three times the rate for comparable White families (3.7%). Low-income workers have a more difficult time accumulating wealth and becoming more secure financially and economically mobile.

"Differences in wealth mean that pieces of the American Dream —like home-ownership— are not yet within the grasp of all Americans. This affects communities and neighborhoods, it diminishes our economic strength and ultimately affect the prosperity of all Americans."

These data are especially relevant to ongoing debates on the budget and taxes, including proposals to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which new poverty data demonstrate helped to reduce the after tax poverty rate for Hispanics by 4.1 percentage points in 1999.

In addition, these data are crucial to understanding the effects of welfare reform implementation. "Hispanic women continue to have low income and high poverty rates, even as they are working harder than ever before. If we strengthen economic opportunities for families headed by women, we can ensure a more productive workforce and fewer poor children."

"We have made strong gains on income and poverty for most groups, and our country has the tools to tackle other economic disparities. With the nation's attention focused on the differences between the presidential candidates on issues of greatest concern to all Americans, there is no better time to make commitments to close these gaps," advised Yzaguirre.

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