Hispanic kids are the largest group of children living in poverty
By Carol Morello and Ted Mellnik
Hispanics now make up the largest group of children living in poverty, the first time in U.S. history that poor white kids have been outnumbered by poor children of another race or ethnicity, according to a new study.
In a report released Wednesday, the Pew Hispanic Center said that 6.1 million Hispanic children are poor, compared with 5 million non-Hispanic white children and 4.4 million black children. Pew said Hispanic poverty numbers have soared because of the impact of the recession on the growing number of Latinos.
The rise in childhood poverty is another signal of distress for the nation’s 50.5 million Hispanics, who have been hit harder by the bleak economy than any other group. They have one of the highest unemployment rates and saw their household wealth decline more steeply than either blacks or whites, largely because so many lost their houses to foreclosure.
Although the recession is the largest single factor explaining the rise, the sheer number of Hispanics in the country and their high birth rates suggest that childhood poverty for Hispanics is not just a temporary bump in the road. The nation’s under-18 population would have declined over the past decade if it weren’t for Hispanics, and most places that grew in population had Hispanics, along with Asians, to thank.
“How Latinos mature, what schools they go to and how they do in the labor market will have implications for us all in this century,” said Mark Lopez, an author of the Pew study. “A quarter of all children are Hispanic, and in the future they will make up a greater share of the nation’s workforce.”
Although the number of poor Hispanic children is at a record high, black children have a higher rate of poverty — 39 percent, compared with 35 percent for Hispanic children. In contrast, the poverty rate for white children is about 12 percent.
Nationwide, one in five children across all races and ethnicities is living in poverty, which the Census Bureau defines as a household income of $22,113 for a family of four.
In the Washington region, almost every jurisdiction has experienced a rise in childhood poverty since the recession began in 2007, according to recently released census statistics. But the District has by far the highest rate, with almost one in three children growing up poor. Almost all are African American. In the suburbs, the highest poverty rates fluctuate between black and Latino kids.
Before the recession, poor white children outnumbered poor Hispanic children in the United States. The recession thrust more children of all races and ethnicities into poverty, but none more than Hispanics. Their poverty rate increased about twice as fast as the rate for black children.
“Hispanics have really been slammed with what’s been going on in the past three years,” said Patricia Foxen, associate director of research for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group, singling out unemployment and the foreclosure crisis as the two main culprits. “A lot of Latinos invested most of their wealth in buying homes. It’s the American dream. When people lost their homes, as lots of people in the Latino community did, they get wiped out. If both unemployment and foreclosure affect your family, clearly the chances you’re going to live in poverty go way up.”
The Washington area’s demographics are different. Black children account for more than half the region’s 126,000 children living in poverty. About one in four poor children are Hispanic, and one in 10 are white. Asians are the smallest group, just 8 percent of the region’s poor children.
But these figures vary widely by jurisdiction. In the District, for example, 90 percent of the more than 30,000 children living in poverty last year were black, while 8 percent were Hispanic, and less than half a percent were white.
In Arlington County, 39 percent of poor kids were Hispanic, while 19 percent were black. In Fairfax County, black and Hispanic children each made up about a third of the 19,000 poor kids.
At least a third of poor children were Hispanic in Montgomery, Loudoun and Prince William counties, while black children made up a third or more of the poor kids in Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and Howard counties.
The number of people seeking help from Casa of Maryland, a nonprofit group that works with low-income immigrants, has risen by a third or more since the recession began, said Director Gustavo Torres. Though its focus is to help people find jobs, Casa of Maryland is about to expand services for children and families.
1 In 3 Black Males Will Go To Prison In Their Lifetime,
One in every three black males born today can expect to go to prison at some point in their life, compared with one in every six Latino males, and one in every 17 white males, if current incarceration trends continue.
These are among the many pieces of evidence cited by the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for prison reform, in a report on the staggering racial disparities that permeate the American criminal justice system.
The report was submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Committee this week in advance of the U.N.’s review of American compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights later this month. It argues that racial disparity pervades “every stage of the United States criminal justice system, from arrest to trial to sentencing.”
“Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested,” the report explains. “Once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences.”
The report's findings lead its authors to conclude that the U.S. is violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that all citizens must be treated equally under the law. The U.S. ratified the treaty in 1992.
Central to the report’s argument is the simple fact that African-American and, to a lesser extent, Hispanic men, are more likely to spend time behind bars than their white counterparts, according to recent data from the U.S. government.
The reasons for this discrepancy are widely debated, but the report discourages readers from blaming either the higher-than-average crime rate among blacks and Latinos in the U.S. or the presence of deliberate racism in the criminal justice system.
While those factors may contribute to the problem, the reasons go much deeper, the report contends.
The problem begins with police activity. According to Justice Department data cited in the report, police arrested black youth for drug crimes at more than twice the rate of white youth between 1980 and 2010, nationwide. Yet a 2012 study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that white high-school students were slightly more likely to have abused illegal drugs within the past month than black students of the same age.
Blacks are also far more likely than whites to be stopped by the police while driving. The Sentencing Project report largely attributes the racial disparities in both traffic and drug arrests to “implicit racial bias” on the part of the police.
“Since the nature of law enforcement frequently requires police officers to make snap judgments about the danger posed by suspects and the criminal nature of their activity, subconscious racial associations influence the way officers perform their jobs,” the report contends.
The disparities don’t end with arrests. Because blacks and Latinos are generally poorer than whites, they are more likely to rely on court-appointed public defenders, who tend to work for agencies that are underfunded and understaffed. In 2012, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, more than 70 percent of public defender offices reported that they were struggling to come up with the funding needed to provide adequate defense services to poor people. By last March, the problem was so bad that Attorney General Eric Holder declared the public defense system to be in a "state of crisis.”
Racial disparities within the justice system have been exacerbated by the war on drugs, the report argues. The drug war led the country’s population of incarcerated drug offenders to soar from 42,000 in 1980 to nearly half a million in 2007. From 1999 to 2005, African Americans constituted about 13 percent of drug users, but they made up about 46 percent of those convicted for drug offenses, the report points out.
Marc Mauer, director of the Sentencing Project and an author of the report, said he’s optimistic that the country’s criminal justice policies are starting to change. “There’s much that needs to be done, but we haven’t seen this much progress around these issues in quite some time,” he said.
He mentioned the Justice Department’s recent decision to scale back the war on drugs and a series of bipartisan state laws aimed at reducing harsh prison sentences for low-level drug offenders.
The report offers 10 specific steps that the U.S. could take to cut down on such disparities, including fully funding the country’s public defenders, prohibiting law-enforcement officials from engaging in racial profiling and establishing a commission to develop recommendations for “systemic reform” of the country’s police bureaus and courts.
Whether the U.N. review could contribute to these changes isn’t clear. Even if the U.N. finds the U.S. to be in violation of the treaty, the range of repercussions is essentially limited to scolding.
Still, Mauer said, “It’s a question of making a moral statement."
Blog of Rights / ACLU
Black and Blue: The All-Too-Often Toxic Relationship Between Communities of Color and Law Enforcement
Twenty-five years ago, Director Spike Lee released the film "Do the Right Thing" which illustrated with startling realism the racial tensions and uneasy relationship between police and the communities of color in Brooklyn's Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood. The film's message about the need to alter the fraught relationship between communities of color and law enforcement has assumed renewed importance with the events surrounding the tragic killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson this summer.
One clear message that emerges is that the decision by the St. Louis County Grand Jury not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for that killing cannot be the final word in the discussion about the all-too-often toxic relationship between communities of color and law enforcement.
As an initial matter, the Department of Justice can still conduct an exhaustive investigation about Brown's shooting as well as looking at the broader question of unfair repressive practices in the Ferguson Police Department as a whole. But even though the current focus on police practices was triggered by the Brown shooting, the events that occurred in its aftermath have demonstrated that the underlying problem is neither new nor limited to the shooting of Brown or to the city of Ferguson.
Similar concerns about the use of deadly force in communities of color have appeared throughout the country. The following list is long and by no means exhaustive.
In Staten Island, New York, Eric Garner died after being placed in an illegal choke hold while being arrested for selling loose cigarettes. John Crawford, an African American man, was shot while speaking on his cell phone and holding a toy gun in the toy aisle of a Walmart in Ohio – an open carry state. Milton Hall, a 49-year-old man with mental illness, was surrounded by eight police officers and a police dog and shot and killed in a hail of 46 shots, even though he was armed only with a pen knife and presented no immediate threat to anyone. Levar Jones was shot by a South Carolina State Trooper while reaching into his car to comply with an order to provide his license in a supposed investigation of a seat belt violation. In Oakland, a handcuffed Oscar Grant was shot and killed while laying face down in a Bart station. These and numerous other incidents suggest the existence of a broader systemic problem that demands investigation regardless of the ultimate outcome of the investigation of Officer Darren Wilson.
Spike Lee ended his landmark movie with a dedication to the families of black New Yorkers killed in incidents in which the specter of race loomed large. Included in the list were Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael Griffith, Arthur Miller, Edmund Perry, Yvonne Smallwood and Michael Stewart" all of whom except Michael Griffith died at the hands of police officers.
Although those names may be unfamiliar to a younger generation, they are a reminder of the persistence of a problem that existed long before Spike Lee's movie and, sadly, appears to continue unabated up to the present. Like all good movies, Lee's movie continues to speak to us in part because it is well-made, but unfortunately, it's timeliness is also due to the fact that the problems that it documented have not changed.
If there is a silver lining in the tragic cloud that has surrounded Ferguson, it is that it has prompted organizing and discussions about the larger issues of the improper use of force against communities of color, communities that ask nothing more than to be provided the same protection and appreciation of their humanity as is guaranteed by laws and the Constitution.
It would be sad if that momentum were brought to a halt by the lack of an indictment in Ferguson and we found ourselves, 25 years from now, substituting a whole new list of names from locations across the country, for the ones immortalized in Spike Lee's film.
© 2014 ACLU
Dennis Parker is director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program, leading its efforts in combating discrimination and addressing other issues with a disproportionate impact on communities of color.
“People initially come to us looking for jobs,” Torres said.
The reason for the growing need is clear to Torres: “The main priority for our children and parents is jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said.
In the Pew study, many of the factors affecting whether a child is likely to live in poverty are the same across races and ethnicities.
Poverty was most prevalent in families headed by a single mother, or parents who are unemployed or have less than a high school education.
But where parents were born also played a role. The poverty rate among Hispanic children with immigrant parents was 40 percent, compared with 28 percent for children whose parents were born in the United States.
Staff researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.
Carol Morello is the diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post, covering the State Department.
Ted Mellnik explores and analyzes data and maps for graphics, stories and interactives.