Latino Heritage Month: Economic Inequality and Latinos

In the United States, race has been used by dominant powers in society to advance and re-enforce socio-economic status. People of different religions, languages, countries and ethnicities have historically been categorized into groups that reflected an ever-evolving White supremacist order. This was true for the diverse African people who were enslaved and brought to the United States, for the different Indigenous peoples who lived throughout the Americas before Europeans arrived, and for Latinos, an ethnicity that emerged from European conquest. 

Latinos are people of varying nationalities, races and even traditional languages that are from the Americas, where Latin-based languages Portuguese and Spanish are dominant. The “Anglo” form of White supremacy differed from much of Latin America’s White supremacy.  In Latin America, there was more inter-marriage between the “races” and there wasn’t the same type of absolute racial polarization. Anglos would demark individuals as either White, Black or Indian (indigenous). In Latin America, there was a blurring of racial lines that maintained White socio-economic supremacy. 

The blurred lines in Latin America were so offensive to Anglo White supremacist norms that a racial category of Latino or Hispanic was created to distinguish between the recognized mixed-race heritage of Latin Americans and the supposed “purer” bloodlines of Whites in the United States and Canada. The designation of Latinos being other than White made Latinos targets of racially discriminatory and segregationist policies in the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States. Examples include loss of land from The Reclamation Act, systemic deportation and difficulty claiming veteran benefits. 

Despite the current prohibition of policies that outright discriminate by race, racial economic inequality continues to have a significant impact upon Latinos in the United States.

As of 2015, the United States’ Latino population is 55,678,000. Of this total 64.2 percent are of Mexican heritage, 16.8 percent are Caribbean, 8.7 percent are Central Americans and 5.3 percent are South American. 65.6 percent of Latinos are native-born and, only 20 percent of Latinos in the United States are undocumented. Latinos do have some of the lowest educational attainment stemming from much of Latino immigrants coming to the US for work that does not require high educational attainment.

For Latinos, dreaming of earning a college degree means making a higher income. Currently, the percentage of Latinos with a Bachelor degree or higher is 15.3 percent, which is drastically less than Whites who have more than double the rate at 35.7 percent. While Latino graduates do earn more than Latinos with no college degree, what is overlooked is the income inequality between Latino college graduates and White college graduates. Latinos with a bachelor’s degree or higher earn on average about 80 cents on every dollar than Whites with a bachelor’s degree.

Regarding wealth, the disparity is much worse. In 2016, Latinos had a median wealth of $6,400 compared to White median wealth of $140,500. Again, we see that higher education does not bridge racial economic inequality. Latinos with a college degree have a median wealth of about $33,000 which is not even 20 cents on the dollar in wealth compared to Whites with a college degree. Whites with a High School Diploma or GED have a median wealth of about $61,000. This is almost twice the wealth of Latinos with a four-year degree. 

Latinos are second to Whites in population numbers and will continue to grow, by some projections, becoming 24 percent of the U.S total population by 2065. With this growth comes more influence on policies by the Latino electorate, which is projected to double by 2030. This growth of the Latino population, which has many similar socio-economic characteristics to African Americans, means that racial economic inequality is having a significant effect on a growing share of the population. 

Over the last couple of years, the country has seen more outright racist rhetoric against the nation’s largest ethnic minority. For the country to move away from its racist past and current reality of deep racial economic inequality, the nation will have to make a sharp shift to embrace policies and practices that bridge the racial wealth divide particularly as it effects Latinos and African Americans. As the Latino population continues to grow it becomes a greater truth that an economically insecure Latino community means an economically insecure United States. 

Related Content