Latinos Lead Nation In Childhood Poverty

For the first time in history, whites no longer make up the single largest group of poor children in America. A new report from the Pew Hispanic Center shows that more than six million Hispanic children live in poverty. To learn more about what that means for the future of the Latino community and the nation, guest host Tony Cox speaks with Mark Lopez, co-author of the report and the associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center.

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TONY COX, host: We take a closer look now at the changing face of poverty in America. For the first time in history, the largest group of poor children is no longer white; that according to a recent report from the Pew Hispanic Center. It shows that, in 2010, more than 37 percent of poor children were Latino, while 30 percent were white, roughly 25 percent black. The report is titled, "Childhood Poverty Among Hispanics Sets Record, Leads Nation."

To get a sense of what this means for Hispanics and non-Hispanics, we turn now to report co-author, Mark Lopez. He is the associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center. Mark, welcome back to the program.

MARK LOPEZ: Thank you very much.

COX: Let's begin with this. One of the first things that comes to mind when we see this record-setting number is, of course, why? So what accounts, would you say, for the 6.1 million Latino children living in poverty?

LOPEZ: One thing to point to is that when we take a look at the Latino community generally, it's been growing. And during this decade, there was a trend of more Latino children in poverty. So part of it is just a story of demographics.

However, since 2007, the start of the great recession, we've seen the number of Latino children in poverty increase at a much more rapid rate than is the case for black or white children and part of that is because of the situation with regards to the recession. Many Latinos lost jobs early on during the beginning of the recession and household wealth among Hispanics has been hit particularly hard, more so than either black or white households. So economics and the situation of the economy is a big part of the story, as well.

COX: Why has the recession hit Latino households harder than as you just said?

LOPEZ: At the beginning of the recession, some of the evidence that we saw was that many Latinos who were in the construction industry, particularly, were among the first to lose their jobs. Many Latinos, in fact, many of them immigrants, who had come to the United States who were working in the construction industry and building homes and as the housing boom happened throughout the decade, that of course affected employment rates among Hispanics.

However, after 2006, particularly starting in 2007, some of the first jobs lost were among those in construction.

COX: But Latinos are working in other areas, as well. Certainly, the service industries is one that comes to mind.

LOPEZ: And that's right and, if we take a look at what happened to the Latinos in the job market in the early part of the recession, there were job losses in construction, and construction was a big part of that story, particularly with the housing bust after the boom. However, there was also job losses in manufacturing, as well. Latinos are more likely to be in manufacturing jobs, for example, than other groups.

There was also job losses in the service industry as tourism also slowed down, so all of these were things that impacted the Latino community, but because they're more concentrated in some of these industries or sectors that got hit harder, they were among the first to lose jobs.

COX: Let's put some of this in perspective if we can, Mark, because we're talking about, on one hand, immigrants. And when we talk about Latinos and immigrants, it seems to me that it's important to make the distinction between those who are here legally versus those who are here illegally and how those separate sets of numbers impact the kids who are living in poverty.

LOPEZ: That's right. And one of the things in this report that we point to is looking at particularly the poverty rate among Latino children who are the children of immigrant parents and their poverty rate is higher than it is for Latino children who were U.S.-born parents.

Further, when you take a look at the composition of Latino children in poverty, about two-thirds come from families where at least one parent is an immigrant. Now, with regards to whether or not they're unauthorized or authorized immigrants, that's something that this data didn't allow us to see. Nonetheless, more than half of adults in the Latino population are immigrants. Among Latinos overall, there are about almost 8.5 million Latino adults who are they themselves not in the country with authorization.

Further, many of these immigrant families that have unauthorized immigrant parents have children who are U.S. born.

COX: It's hard to follow, in a sense. I understand that. Let me just say, if you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about Latino children now making up the largest portion of poor kids in America. Our guest is Mark Lopez, co-author of the new Pew report called "Childhood Poverty Among Hispanics Sets Record, Leads Nation."

At the risk of confusing our audience even more, let's talk about the fact that, even though there are more Latino children living in poverty than any other ethnic group at the moment, the rate of children living in poverty is still owned by African-Americans.

LOPEZ: Yes. So we take a look at all children under the age of 18 who are African-American. Their poverty rate is nearly 40 percent. When you take a look at all Latino children under the age of 18, their poverty rate is 37 percent. So the poverty rate among African-American children is higher and it has remained higher throughout the recession.

However, during this recession, the poverty rate among Hispanics has actually increased more rapidly than it has among African-Americans. But for all groups, whether white, black or Latino, poverty rates for children are up.

COX: In terms of the children who are living in poverty, what is their home life like, their family life?

LOPEZ: Among Latino children in poverty, nearly half live in families where there's a married couple at the head of the family; so a father and a mother. Only about 45 percent live in families where it's a single mother leading the family. It's very different than what you see for African-American children. Among them, 75 percent who live in poverty live in families that are headed by a single mother.

So a very different composition for Latinos compared to African-Americans. Nonetheless, compared to whites, Latino children in poverty and their family composition looked very much like it does for whites. In fact, it's very similar.

COX: What does the future hold if you were to look into your crystal ball? What does this research tell you about the next five years for all children in America, but particularly as it relates to Latino and perhaps African-Americans?

LOPEZ: Another very interesting question. I think that what happens to these young people and how they come of age is going to have implications for the U.S. as a whole, whether we're talking about Latino, black or white children. One of the interesting things, though, about the demographic characteristics of the United States is that nearly one in four children today are Latino. So when we're talking about a poverty rate among Latinos that's increasing and more Latino children being in poverty than any other group. This is a group that, in the future, how they do, what jobs they get, what levels of education they attain - all of those will have implications for the type of country the United States will be in the next 30, 40, 50 years.

COX: Mark Lopez is the coauthor of the new Pew report called "Childhood Poverty Among Hispanics Sets Records, Leads Nation." He is also the associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center. He joined us here in our Washington, D.C. studio. Mark, thank you very much.

LOPEZ: Thank you.

COX: Coming up, plenty of 18 year olds aren't quite ready to be on their own, so should that reality be reflected in services for kids who grow up in foster care?

GARY STANGLER: For teenagers who haven't learned how to do the things that we all take for granted, we can't expect them to walk out and be like every young person that had all those things we take for granted.

COX: How new research on brain development is fueling questions about services for foster children. That's coming up on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox.

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