December 13, 2007

2007 National Survey of Latinos: As Illegal Immigration Issue Heats Up, Hispanics Feel a Chill

IV. Perceptions of Discrimination

A majority of respondents to this survey see discrimination against Latinos as a big problem that is keeping Hispanics from succeeding in this country, and about four-in-ten report that they or someone close to them has been a target of discrimination in the past five years. However, most say that these personal experiences with discrimination occur infrequently.

Perceptions of Discrimination Against Latinos

Just over half of the nation’s Hispanics (54%) say that discrimination is a major problem that is preventing Latinos from succeeding in America. A quarter (24%) say it is a minor problem, while just 19% say it is not a problem. And, by somewhat larger margins, respondents say that discrimination is a major problem for Latinos in schools (64%) and workplaces (58%).

The perception among Latinos that discrimination is a major problem preventing Latinos from succeeding in this country has risen substantially since 2002, when 44% of Hispanics felt this way. But it has declined slightly since 2006, when 58% felt this way.

Generally, the survey finds that perceptions of discrimination among Hispanics are related to nativity, to language usage patterns and to educational and economic attainment. Foreign-born Latinos are more likely than those born in the United States to believe discrimination overall is a major problem, and those who are Spanish dominant are more likely than those who are English dominant to say so. Among both foreign-born Latinos and Spanish speakers, however, the proportion who call discrimination a major problem has declined a bit more in the last year than it has among Hispanics overall.

Nearly two-thirds of Hispanics (64%) now say that discrimination against Latinos is a major problem in schools; in 2002, just 38% said so. The proportion believing this now is especially high (73%) among foreign-born Hispanics.

In the workplace, 58% of Latinos say that discrimination is a major problem, an increase from 41% in 2002. Here, too, the concern is even larger for the foreign-born, 65% of whom describe it as a major problem.

In schools and the workplace, discrimination is more likely to be seen as a major problem by Hispanics who have less than a college education, compared with those who have more education, and by those who are unemployed, compared with those who are employed. Also, Hispanics who were born in the United States, and especially those whose parents also are native born, are less likely to perceive a problem than are foreign-born Hispanics.

Latinos who say their local officials and political leaders have paid a lot of attention to the illegal immigration issue in recent months are more likely than other Hispanics to describe discrimination as a major problem hindering Hispanic success—59% do. They also are more likely than other Latinos to share the belief that school and workplace discrimination is a major problem.

Personal Experiences With Discrimination

Asked about discrimination as it affects them as individuals rather than how it affects Hispanics as a group, four-in-ten Hispanics (41%) report that they, a family member or a close friend had experienced ethnic or racial discrimination within the past five years. When this same question was asked in 2006, 38% of respondents said they or someone close to them had had a personal experience with discrimination in the previous five years. In 2002, just 31% said the same thing. Thus, Latinos are now more likely to report personal experiences with discrimination than in either 2002 or 2006.

In the 2007 survey, foreign-born Hispanics (40%) are no more likely to say they have been the victim of discrimination than are native-born Hispanics (42%)—an exception to the general pattern of more perceived discrimination by less-assimilated Latinos. This represents a change since 2002, when native-born Latinos were markedly more likely than foreign-born Latinos to say they or someone close to them had been a victim of discrimination. The share of foreign-born Latinos who said this has risen steadily since 2002, whereas the native-born share declined modestly since last year.

In 2002, 27% of foreign-born Latinos reported that they or someone close to them had been discriminated against. That share rose to 32% in 2006 and to 40% in 2007. Among the native born, 37% said in 2002 that they had experienced recent discrimination. That share increased to 45% in 2006. In 2007, it was 42%

Asked about specific types of discrimination, most Latinos say that at one time or another, they have received less respect than other people (62%) or been given poorer service in restaurants or stor(53%) because of their race or ethnicity. More people who report receiving less respect or poorer service say it has happened once in a while, rather than often.

The share of Latinos who report they have been treated with less respect or have been given poorer service than other people is up from 2002, when 45% said they had ever received less respect and 41% said they had ever been given poorer service in restaurants or stores.

When asked about another specific type of discrimination, some 45% of Latinos say they have been treated poorly in government offices because of racial or ethnic bias. Most who report this say it happened just once in a while. Also, 16% of Latinos report that at some time in their lives they were not hired for a job or were denied a promotion because of their race or ethnicity.

As with other questions about discrimination, there are demographic divisions within the Hispanic community. Non-citizens are more likely than citizens to say they have been given less respect, poorer service in restaurants or stores, or poor treatment in government offices. Similarly, foreign-born Hispanics are more likely than native-born Hispanics to say they have received poor service or treatment in restaurants, stores and government offices. The same is true for those who are Spanish dominant compared with those who are English dominant.

In addition, Latinos who say their local officials have focused a lot on the issue of illegal immigration in recent months are more likely than other Hispanics to report being the victim of some types of discrimination. For example, nearly one-in-five (19%) of those who perceive a heavy local government focus on illegal immigration report having been treated poorly in government offices very or fairly often. By contrast, just one-in-nine Hispanics (11%) who perceive that illegal immigration has not been a priority of local officials report receiving poor service in government offices very often or fairly often.

Causes of Discrimination

As to the major causes of discrimination against Hispanics, when offered four options, more Latinos choose language (46%) than other possible factors. By comparison, 22% choose immigration status; 16% choose income and education levels; and 11% choose skin color.

Hispanics say language is the biggest cause of discrimination, and this is true no matter what their educational background, citizenship status, primary language, political party affiliation or country of origin.

But there is some variation by demographic group in the proportion choosing each of the four possible principal causes of discrimination. Language is chosen by a greater share of foreign-born Latinos (50%) than the native born (41%). Income and education levels are selected by a greater share of native-born Hispanics (25%) than the foreign born (11%).

Immigration status is selected as the main cause of discrimination by a greater share of non-citizens (28%) than citizens (19%). Income and education levels are chosen by a greater share of citizens (21%) than non-citizens (8%).

Skin color is chosen by a greater share of Hispanics ages 40 and older, compared with younger Latinos, and by a greater share of immigrants who have been in the country for 11 years or more, compared with those who have not been here as long. Immigration status is selected by a greater share of Hispanics with a high school education or less (24%), compared with Latinos with some college education (19%). Income and education levels are selected by a greater share of English speakers (25%) and bilingual Hispanics (18%) than by Spanish speakers (10%).