January 26, 2012

Hispanics Say They Have the Worst of a Bad Economy

II. Latinos in a Tough Economy

The new Pew Hispanic survey finds that the sour economy has had a significant impact on Hispanics’ spending and economic behaviors.

Nearly half (49%) say they have delayed or canceled plans to buy a car or make some other major purchase in the past year. Some 45% say they have delayed or canceled plans to buy a home or make major home improvements. Nearly four-in-ten (38%) say they have cut the size of meals or skipped meals because there wasn’t enough money for food. And 37% say they had trouble getting or paying for medical care for their family.

For some behaviors, there are no differences between foreign-born Hispanics and native-born Hispanics. For example, immigrant and native-born Hispanics are equally likely to say they have delayed or canceled plans to buy a car or make some other major purchase—49% and 48%, respectively. And, when it comes to getting medical care for their family, nearly equal shares of foreign-born and native-born Latinos say they have had trouble getting or paying for it in the past year—38% versus 35%.

On other behaviors, foreign-born Hispanics are more likely than native-born Hispanics to say they have changed. Nearly half (48%) of the foreign born say they have delayed or canceled plans to buy a home or make major home improvements, compared with 41% of the native born. And 43% of immigrant Hispanics say they have cut back the size of their meals or skipped meals altogether because of a lack of money for food. Among the native born, 33% say they have done this in the past year.

Among foreign-born Latinos, those who are not U.S. citizens are more likely to have changed their economic behavior than other Latinos. For example, more than half (53%) of immigrant Latinos who are not citizens and not legal residents (a group that closely aligns with the unauthorized immigrant population1) and 49% of immigrant Latinos who are legal residents say they have cut back on the size of meals because of a lack of money for food. On getting or paying for medical care, 45% of immigrant Latinos who are not U.S. citizens and not legal residents and 43% of immigrant Latinos who are legal residents say they have had trouble getting or paying for medical care for their family in the past year.

Personal Finances

The difficult economy has also affected Latinos’ assessments of their personal finances. According to the new survey, three-in-four (75%) Latinos rate their current financial situation as either “only fair” (51%) or “poor” (25%). By contrast, among U.S. adults, fewer (61%) rate their current financial situation as “only fair” (37%) or “poor” (24%).

Despite challenging economic conditions and difficult personal finances, Latinos are optimistic about their finances in the coming year—more so than the general public. Two-thirds (67%) of Latinos expect an improvement in their financial situation and that of their family. By contrast, 58% of all adults say they expect to see an improvement.

Overall, foreign-born Hispanics hold a grimmer view of their personal finances than the native born. More than eight-in-ten (83%) foreign-born Hispanics rate their own financial situation as “only fair” or “poor” while two-thirds (66%) of the native born offer the same rating. And when it comes to optimism about personal finances in the next year, fewer immigrant Hispanics than native-born Hispanics expect to see an improvement—63% versus 71%.

Unemployment and Latinos

Many Latinos have experienced a spell of unemployment or know someone who has been unemployed. According to the new survey, nearly six-in-ten (59%) Latino adults say this has happened to their household in the past year. Among all U.S. adults, nearly as many said the same in March of 2011—51% (Kohut, Doherty, Dimock and Keeter, 2011).

Overall, native-born Hispanics and foreign-born Hispanics are just as likely to say their households have experienced unemployment in the last year—57% and 60% respectively. However, among the foreign born there are notable differences. Two-thirds (66%) of immigrant Hispanics who are legal residents and two-thirds (66%) of those who do not have U.S. citizenship and are not a legal resident say someone in their household was without a job or looking for work in the last year. By contrast, 54% of naturalized U.S. citizens say the same.

Experience with unemployment varies across other Latino demographic groups as well. Seven-in-ten (70%) of those ages 18 to 29 have experienced unemployment in their households in the last year—more than any other age group—while 57% of Latinos ages 30 to 49, 57% of those ages 50 to 64, and half (51%) of those ages 65 and older say the same.

The survey also reveals differences by educational attainment. Two-thirds (65%) of Latinos with less than a high school diploma say they or someone in their household has been without a job in the last 12 months. By contrast 53% of those with some college education say the same. Additionally, 60% of high school graduates also say they or someone in their household has been without a job in the last 12 months.

Finally, household experience with unemployment is higher among Hispanics who are not registered to vote than it is among those who are registered—64% of the former say this compared with 53% of Hispanic registered voters.

  1. numoffset=”5″ The Center’s analysis of Current Population Survey data indicates that approximately 98% of Hispanic immigrants who are neither U.S. citizens nor legal residents are unauthorized immigrants (Livingston, 2009).