5 Ways Blacks and Hispanics Are at Least Twice as Likely to Be Poor

Polices aimed at tackling poverty often focus solely on raising income. But an equally important goal of anti-poverty policies is to make income poverty matter less. Poverty is measured beyond household finances. It includes a lack of education, work and access to healthcare, or distressed neighborhood conditions.


These additional dimensions of poverty can be layered on top of income poverty; they can also put those who are not income-poor at a disadvantage.

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new report reflects poverty across multiple dimensions for adults aged 25 to 61, using the 2014 American Community Survey. The survey shows a clear gap between whites vs. blacks and Hispanics.

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More than 3 million black and 5 million Hispanic adults suffer from at least three of the five disadvantages listed below:

1. Low household income.

While poverty is not just about income, income is still important. Citizens are considered poor, in terms of income, if they are in a household below 150 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL). Hispanics and blacks have similar rates of multidimensional poverty (32 percent and 33 percent), more than twice the rate of white income poverty.

2. Limited education.

Lack of education inhibits life chances, earning opportunities and economic security. In the modern labor market, people without a high school diploma are typically at a sharp disadvantage.

Black and Hispanic residents suffer from different forms of clustering. Hispanics are almost 10 times more likely than whites to be low-income, without a high school degree, and uninsured (9.6 percent vs. 1.2 percent). On the other hand, black adults are 7 times more likely than white adults to be low-income, live in a high-poverty area and reside in a jobless household (7.4 percent vs. 1.3 percent).\

3. No health insurance.

There are two main reasons why health is part of this list. Lacking insurance exposes people to greater health and financial risks in the event of illness. The U.S. is still some way from providing universal health care, but great strides have been made at both the federal and state levels to reduce the chances of lacking health insurance as a result of lacking income. This suggests that the clustering of low-income status and lack of health insurance has increased.

However, the trend among adults has at least stabilized in the last few years. Among Hispanic children the picture is rosier, with a drop from 16 to 10 percentage points in the portion of the population that was uninsured between 2009 and 2014, according to research by La Raza and the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute (Schwartz et al. 2016).

4. Low income area.

Living in a high-poverty area puts people at a disadvantage, above and beyond their own household’s income-poverty status, because of local factors like the quality of schools, social capital, job connections, and crime. Hispanics, for example, have about the same rate of the “low income plus unemployment” disadvantage as whites (both around 6 percent), but four times the risk of having the “low income and no high school diploma” disadvantage compared to whites (17 percent vs. 4 percent). Blacks adults, however, are much more likely than white adults to have the double disadvantage of low income and joblessness, or low income and concentrated geographic poverty.

5. Unemployment.

Employment brings advantages above and beyond current income, including the prospect of a higher income in the future and a sense of purpose and structure. Of course not all adults need to have a job—especially in a household with caring responsibilities—but it is better to be in a working family than a jobless family, even apart from the obvious economic implications. However, the black/white employment gap has shown little sign of improvement, especially for men: their black/white employment gap has remained between 13 and 18 percentage points over the last 20 years.

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Overall, only 38 percent of white adults face at least one disadvantage, versus almost 70 percent for Hispanic and black residents. Furthermore, among the white adults that do experience at least one disadvantage, most don’t experience any additional disadvantages. By contrast, most black and Hispanic adults with at least one disadvantage suffer at least one additional disadvantage.

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