THE AVENUE SEPTEMBER 10, 2009
Today’s census numbers (as noted previously)--showing a sharp rise in the nation’s poverty rate from 12.5 percent to 13.2 percent--are not all that surprising in light of the dismal economy which emerged last year. What caught my attention is just how greatly new American minorities bore the brunt of this increase. Among the biggest poverty rate jumps were those shown for Hispanics (21.5 percent to 23.2 percent), the foreign born (16.5 percent to 17.8 percent), and Asians (10.2 percent to 11.8 percent). Moreover the places where many of them live--cities, the West, and states like Arizona and California showed large poverty gains. Of course, whites, married couples, and suburbanites also registered modest increases in poverty in a year when most of America felt financial pain. But the fact that our newest Americans--more so than blacks or single parents overall--saw the greatest rises suggests potential demographic concern.
This is even more telling when taking a look at our child population which also showed a healthy gain in poverty numbers (18 percent to 19 percent). Yet of every 100 new children that entered poverty status in the past year, 71 were Hispanic. Hispanics now comprise 22 percent of all children. The new numbers show 30.3 percent of Hispanic children live in poverty--up 2 percent from the previous year. Black child poverty rates (at 34.7 percent) still exceed those of Hispanics, but the number of poor black children actually declined slightly last year while poor Hispanic child numbers swelled by 12 percent.
Surely, the fact that many Hispanics, new immigrants and, to a lesser extent, Asians showed a substantial poverty uptick last year, indicates their marginal job status in industries and regions that took tremendous hits last year. Yet for these groups, last year simply accentuated a longer term trend that begs greater attention be given to the successful incorporation of new Americans and their children into a labor force that will sorely need them in the future. My analysis of the most recent census projections shows that, between now and 2030, the working aged population will lose 11 million whites, while gaining some 34 million Hispanics and other minorities. The new poverty numbers reinforce the message that we need to provide coming minority-dominant generations with a pathway to the middle class in order to fulfill future labor force needs.