Miguel Díaz-Barriga and Havidán Rodríguez

in Latino Studies

ISBN: 9780199913701
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:

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  • History of the Americas
  • US Cultural History


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Latino/a poverty is once again a major topic of discussion in the national media and among policymakers. Research by the Pew Hispanic Center and others shows that the 2007–2009 Great Recession has hit Latinos/Latinas harder than other racial and ethnic groups. This economic crisis has exacerbated the socioeconomic status of Latinos/Latinas, resulting in higher unemployment and poverty rates and, in essence, adversely affecting some of the economic gains experienced by this group since the late 20th century. For example, the number of Latino/a children living in poverty has, for the first time in US history, surpassed that of whites. According to a 2011 US Census Bureau report that employs a “supplemental” measure of poverty (which includes medical expenses, tax credits, and non-cash government benefits such as food stamps), Latinos/Latinas now have the highest poverty rate in the nation at 28.2 percent, compared to 25.4 percent for African Americans. Even using the “official” measure of poverty, poverty among Latinos/Latinas remains extremely high at 26.7 percent, compared to 27.5 percent for African Americans (see Lopez and Cohn 2011 under Defining Poverty). This article provides a statistical overview of Latino/a poverty and then summarizes two major approaches for understanding its causes and impacts: the culture-of-poverty and neighborhood-effects theories. Both of these approaches have highly influenced public opinion and policymaking while generating a wide range of debate among academics. We then discuss the structural approaches to poverty and inequality that emerged from the work of Latino/a scholars during the 1970s and 1980s. These works characterize poverty as an outcome of internal colonialism and economic exploitation. Starting in the early 21st century, researchers broadened these structural approaches by applying concepts such as neoliberalism and transborder lives to understand how flows of capital and people have shaped economic inequality. Ethnographers have looked at how Latinos/Latinas mobilize family and community resources at the everyday level to cope with, and in some cases overcome, the negative effects of neoliberal policies and poverty. Given the devastating impact of the 2007–2009 Great Recession, it is clear that poverty will continue to define much of the Latino/a experience and that policymakers must develop new ways to alleviate poverty.

Article.  8154 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; US Cultural History

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