2017 Hunger Report: New findings on Latino community and hunger

Latinos are three times as likely as whites to live in areas of concentrated poverty. Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World.

By Marlysa D. Gamblin

Latinos are more likely to face food insecurity than the overall U.S. population (19.7 percent versus 12.7 percent) and are more likely to live in poverty (21.4 percent versus 13.5 percent). But why? Bread for the World’s new 2017 Hunger Report, Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities, discusses some of the reasons.

The report, to be released Monday, Nov. 21, identifies two factors that worsen food insecurity, hunger, and poverty in the Latino community. One is inequality and discrimination based on race and ethnicity, and the other is the phenomenon of concentrated poverty (defined as areas whose poverty rates are 20 percent or higher).

Latinos are three times as likely as whites to live in areas of concentrated poverty, meaning that they are three times as likely to have less resources in their neighborhoods and face a myriad of barriers when trying to provide for their family. Living in concentrated poverty means that it is much harder for Latinos to lift themselves and their families out of poverty when many of their neighbors are also struggling. The barriers between them and a job that pays a living wage are higher, their local schools have fewer resources and less ability to provide rigorous academics, supermarkets with affordable and nutrient-rich foods may be far from where they live, and the list goes on.

Thus, concentrated poverty not only means that the household experiences poverty, but that the entire community is resource-depleted. There is less support for students to graduate from high school and go to college, and less support for workers to secure decent-paying jobs. Where people live determines many of the opportunities they have, as with nearby grocery stores and jobs. Location also contributes to the problems people experience—for example, a greater likelihood of being stopped or arrested by the police or of facing discrimination when applying for housing.

The growth in concentrated poverty is, in part, the resurgence of racial and ethnic segregation in the United States. As a result, Latinos, for example, have a greater likelihood of dropping out of high school (10.6 percent versus 5.2 percent for whites). Unemployment among Latinos is higher (5.8 percent versus 4.4 percent), and Latinos are more likely to work in low-wage jobs.

It follows that targeting areas of concentrated poverty for investment can help reduce and then end hunger in the Latino community. Almost 14 million people live in communities with poverty rates of 40 percent or higher. Targeted resources to these communities could include, for example, housing support for families with incomes less than 30 percent of the area’s median income and/or public jobs for workers with barriers to employment such as a criminal record or limited English proficiency.

The United States has committed to ending hunger and extreme poverty by 2030. These aims are part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by 193 countries in 2015. It’s clear that we cannot end hunger and food insecurity in our country without focusing attention and investments on areas of concentrated poverty.   

Marlysa D. Gamblin is a domestic advisor for policy and programs for specific populations at Bread for the World Institute.

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