Among U.S. children, poverty found to grow fastest for Hispanics

August 27, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- The poverty rate among Hispanic children in the United States is skyrocketing, not because of immigration but because their parents lack education and hold low-paying jobs as a result, according to a report by the Children's Defense Fund.

Hispanic children are the fastest growing group of children in the country, census statistics show. They also are becoming poor at a faster rate than white or black children are, said Leticia C. Miranda, a policy analyst who wrote the report.

The population spurt, coupled with rising poverty, threatens future U.S. economic stability and productivity, Ms. Miranda said in an interview. "This will cripple [Hispanic children] and eventually make them unable to become productive members of the workplace," she said.

In 1989, when 20 percent of all U.S. children were living in poverty, 33 percent of Hispanic children were poor, census data show.

While poverty rates increased for children in every race and ethnic group from 1979 to 1989, the poverty rate for Hispanic children rose at a faster pace than that for white or black children, jumping by 29.3 percent, according to the report.

In the same period, the proportion of black children in poverty rose by 6.1 percent and the overall poverty rate among children climbed by 19.5percent, the report indicated.

Half of the more than 2 million children who became poor in the United States during the last decade were Hispanic. That statistic, revealed during a previous Children's Defense Fund study of child poverty, led researchers to single out Hispanic children for a special study.

Immigration is not the primary cause of the increasing poverty, the study concludes. Instead, low educational achievement translates into low-paying jobs, and that combination increasingly drives Hispanic families into poverty, it says.

More than two-thirds of poor Hispanic family heads of households don't have a high school diploma, compared with about half of poor white and black family heads, the study found.

"This is at a time when even a high school diploma doesn't always get you far," Ms. Miranda said.

Only Puerto Rican children -- 50 percent of whom are poor -- have a higher poverty rate than Mexican-American children, 33 percent of whom are poor. Mexican-American children also are less likely to have health insurance than any other Hispanic or racial group.

The parents of Cuban-American children have the highest median income of any Hispanic group, and the poverty rate among Cuban-American children, 25 percent, is the lowest among Hispanics.

But Cuban-American children's poverty rate is still much higher than that of white children, 15 percent of whom are poor, Ms. Miranda noted, and is rising faster than that of any other Hispanic group.

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