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.”