Low-income Latino Families Are More Financially Stable, Less Likely to Participate in Assistance Programs

Three new research briefs — all authored by Lisa Gennetian, a research affiliate with the Institute of Human Development and Social Change (IHDSC), and two coauthored by Pamela Morris, vice dean of research at NYU Steinhardt — examine the economic circumstances of low-income Latino households.

The briefs, released this month by the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families, show that low-income Hispanic households have less variation in earnings from month-to-month in comparison with non-Hispanic low-income households. Despite few resources, low-income Latinos may face difficulties accessing public assistance programs.

“With increasing availability of data, we have an exciting opportunity to get underneath the simple snapshot of poverty that often characterizes the lives of Hispanic children, and this will better inform policymaking targeting issues around economic self-sufficiency,” said Gennetian, who is also the program head for the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families’s Poverty Reduction and Self-Sufficiency research area.

In the first of three briefs, Income Instability in the Lives of Hispanic Children, researchers found that Hispanic children were almost twice as likely as non-Hispanics to live in households with annual incomes of less than $24,000, the lowest income bracket.  At the same time, the studies found that Hispanic households in this lowest income bracket were more economically stable than non-Hispanic households. Income stability among Hispanics appears to be due to more stable monthly earnings rather than to uptake of social assistance programs that aim to stabilize income among poorer households. Researchers caution that this greater economic stability may come at a cost.

“On one hand, stable earnings and less reliance on social assistance income may bode well for Latino children, particularly if associated with broader family stability, even if at low overall income,” said Gennetian. “On the other hand, stable chronic poverty is not good for children.”

The second brief, How Hispanic Parents Perceive Their Need and Eligibility for Public Assistance, points to previous research that found that Hispanics are less likely than blacks and whites to access some public assistance. For example, research found that in 2009, 27 percent of lower income Hispanic parents received food stamp benefits compared to 43 percent of black parents. The researchers explored parents’ reported reasons for not applying for government assistance and found similar reasons among Hispanic, white and black parents with one important exception: Hispanic parents were more likely to report immigration concerns as a barrier for applying for government assistance programs.

The third brief, Low and Stable Income: Comparisons Among Hispanic Children, From 2004 Through the Period Following the Great Recession, suggests that although measures of income stability looked similar as compared to the pre-recession period, the Great Recession may have presented barriers to economic mobility among Hispanic child households. The economic circumstances in 2008 to 2011, toward the end of the recession, reduced the income gap between Hispanic children in high- and low-income households. This reduction appears to have come about through downward shifts of Hispanic households from high-to middle-income groups, not through rises in the lowest income group to higher income groups.

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