Special Report

The Worst States for Hispanics

The United States has been — and continues to be — one of the most popular destinations for immigrants from around the world. Immigrants from Latin American countries and other Spanish-speaking people in particular have become one of the nation’s fastest growing demographics. The United States may be a good place to live compared to many other countries, but every new wave of immigrants — along with second and third generation Hispanic Americans — continues to face various levels of discrimination.

In many of the worst states for Hispanic Americans, there are opportunities to get a steady job, earn decent wages, and buy a home in a thriving community. These opportunities, however, are not uniformly accessible across racial and ethnic lines. Based on an examination of a number of socioeconomic measures, 24/7 Wall St. identified the worst states for Hispanic Americans.

Click here to see the 10 worst states for Hispanics and Latinos. 

Click here to see our full methodology

The nation’s Hispanic population is far from homogeneous. Residents originally from Mexico, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and a number of other countries all identify as Hispanic or Latino. Mexicans are by far the largest group, making up 64% of people who identify as Hispanic or Latino. Mexicans dominate the Hispanic populations in four of the 10 states on this list, while Puerto Ricans make up the largest share in five. In Rhode Island, Dominicans are the largest population within the Hispanic community.

Nationally, Hispanics earn less, are more likely to be unemployed and to live in poverty, and are less likely to own their homes compared to whites. These disparities are especially pronounced in the 10 worst states for Hispanics.

Nationwide, the annual median income of white households exceeds that of Hispanic households by $16,874. In the 10 worst states, the income gap is almost always greater than the national disparity. In Massachusetts and Connecticut, white households earn more than double the earnings of Hispanic households. With more resources, whites are more likely to be able to purchase a home. Two-thirds or more of white homes are owned by their occupants in all but one of these states. By contrast, fewer than half of Hispanic homes are owned by their occupants, and in most of these 10 states Hispanic homeownership rates are even lower.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Valerie Wilson, director of the program on race and ethnicity at the Economic Policy Institute think tank, noted that the relative youth of America’s Hispanic population may play a role in the income gap. The median age of Hispanics is 28.4 years, well below the median age for whites of 43.1 years. Not only that, but many Hispanics and their families are relatively new to the United States.

“It takes time for people to get familiar with an area, to build a network for finding jobs, and to build their family’s security,” Wilson said. Especially for newer immigrants, language barriers can also limit access to higher-paying jobs.

While income inequality can hurt anyone, it is often the case that it manifests specifically along ethnic and racial lines. That is, white populations earn more, and non-whites earn considerably less.

Wilson explained that areas with severe ethnic and racial inequalities tend to be highly segregated. As a consequence, “access to various resources, education, jobs, and so on, will vary a lot based on where people live.”

Financial distress and extremely poor economic conditions often have a ripple effect and are closely tied with other poor outcomes. Hispanics in every state are more likely to go to prison than their white peers. Relatively impoverished, isolated, and segregated communities tend to be policed more, and the greater number of police encounters may also partially explain the higher level of incarceration.

Higher education boosts income and wealth regardless of race or ethnicity. According to research by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, higher education levels also help families protect their wealth and to better withstand economic shocks during recessions and downturns. However, the researchers found that these benefits are far less of an advantage to Hispanic families than they are for white and Asian families.

Wilson noted that whether or not members of Hispanic communities are documented may also play a role, although it can be difficult to pinpoint the effect since data does not often capture them. “Folks who are undocumented may be less likely to file charges or complain when they feel they’re being discriminated against, either in their pay or their employment,” Wilson said.Therefore, the disparities might be underestimated.

10. Nebraska
> Pct. residents Hispanic:
9.7%
> Hispanic homeownership rate: 46.5% (22nd highest)
> Hispanic unemployment rate: 5.0% (13th lowest)
> Hispanic incarceration rate: 867 per 100,000 people (25th lowest)

Only 53.2% of the Hispanic adult population in Nebraska graduated from high school, the second lowest graduation rate among the Hispanic population of any state. At the same time, 94.2% of white adults in the states graduated from high school. This 41 percentage point high school attainment gap between whites and Hispanics is the largest such disparity of any state in the country. Despite relatively low high school attainment rates among Hispanics, the income gap between the typical Hispanic household and the typical white household is not as drastic as it is nationwide. The difference in annual income between white and Hispanic households in Nebraska is $15,926, roughly $1,000 less than it is nationwide.

As is the case in most states, the vast majority of Hispanics in Nebraska are originally from Mexico. Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic in the state, and their presence in Nebraska is projected to more than double to over half a million people by 2050.

9. California
> Pct. residents Hispanic:
38.2%
> Hispanic homeownership rate: 41.9% (16th lowest)
> Hispanic unemployment rate: 7.6% (10th highest)
> Hispanic incarceration rate: 757 per 100,000 people (20th lowest)

Hispanics, the vast majority of whom identify as Mexican, make up 38.2% of California’s population, the third highest share of all states. For the first time, Hispanics and Latinos in the state outnumber whites, who represent the majority in nearly every other state. Despite the Hispanic plurality, whites are still far better off financially, as well as in a range of other factors, compared to Hispanic residents. Despite the fact that Hispanic households tend to be larger than white households, the median income of Hispanic households is just $47,434. While this is among the highest incomes compared with Hispanic households in other states, it is $25,583 lower than the median of white California households — one of the largest income disparities between white and Hispanic households in the country.

California has the nation’s largest unauthorized immigrant population, estimated at over 3 million people. Many of these individuals are employed as farm workers in California’s highly productive agriculture industry. Most of these undocumented immigrants are from Mexico, speak only Spanish, and live in poverty.

8. Arizona
> Pct. residents Hispanic:
30.1%
> Hispanic homeownership rate: 48.7% (20th highest)
> Hispanic unemployment rate: 8.3% (7th highest)
> Hispanic incarceration rate: 1,453 per 100,000 people (7th highest)

Recent efforts to implement anti-immigrant laws in Arizona highlight tensions between the ethnic groups in the state. In April 2010, Arizona enacted an immigration enforcement law widely considered unconstitutional. The law, called SB 1070, originally included provisions that would make failure to carry federally issued alien registration papers a crime, and make it unlawful for unauthorized residents to work. Another provision authorized warrantless arrests when an officer believed a person had committed a public offense, and also allowed for that person’s removal from the United States. Finally, the bill required law enforcement to determine immigration status during lawful stops. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down all but the last of these provisions.

The incarceration rate is high in Arizona for all ethnic groups. While the incarceration rate for whites, at 633 per 100,000, is above average compared to all states, it is still less than half the comparable rate for Hispanics. Each year, 1,453 Hispanic or Latino Arizona residents are incarcerated per 100,000 Hispanic people, one of the highest rates in the country.

7. Colorado
> Pct. residents Hispanic:
20.9%
> Hispanic homeownership rate: 48.2% (21st highest)
> Hispanic unemployment rate: 5.5% (21st lowest)
> Hispanic incarceration rate: 1,280 per 100,000 people (8th highest)

Of Hispanic workers in Colorado, 5.5% are unemployed, an exceptionally low rate compared with the other worst states for Hispanics and Latinos. Still, white workers in Colorado fare better, with a jobless rate of 3.8%. Also, the relatively strong job climate for Hispanics has not seemed to alleviate financial distress. More than 20% Hispanic Coloradans live in poverty. This rate is actually low compared to Hispanic residents in other states rates, but it is more than double the Colorado’s poverty rate among whites of 8.7%.

The similarly wide gap in educational attainment may partially explain the poor economic outcomes of Hispanic state residents. While 44.4% of white Colorado adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, the highest percentage nationwide, only 13.6% of Hispanic adults in the state have similar education.

6. New York
> Pct. residents Hispanic:
18.2%
> Hispanic homeownership rate: 23.7% (2nd lowest)
> Hispanic unemployment rate: 6.7% (15th highest)
> Hispanic incarceration rate: 607 per 100,000 people (12th lowest)

Home to roughly 3.6 million Hispanics, New York has the fourth largest Hispanic population of any state. The state also has some of the most pervasive ethnic and racial inequity in the country. One of the most striking disparities between New York’s white population and its Hispanic population is in income. While the typical white household earns $68,283 annually, roughly $8,500 more than the median white American household, a typical Hispanic household earns roughly $2,000 less each year than the $42,748 national median among Hispanics. With lower incomes, Hispanic households are far more likely to face economic hardship than white households. More than one in four Hispanics in New York live below the poverty line while only about one in every 10 whites are impoverished.

Hispanics in New York are also far less likely to be homeowners than Hispanics throughout the country as a whole. The 23.7% homeownership rate among Hispanics in New York is well below the 45.0% national figure for Hispanics, and the 66.0% figure for white New Yorkers.

5. Rhode Island
> Pct. residents Hispanic:
13.3%
> Hispanic homeownership rate: 26.5% (3rd lowest)
> Hispanic unemployment rate: 9.1% (5th highest)
> Hispanic incarceration rate: 697 per 100,000 people (19th lowest)

Rhode Island is one of three New England states that rank among the worst in the country for Hispanics. Though not as bad as Connecticut or Massachusetts in several important measures, Hispanics in Rhode Island have the lowest median income of those in any state. A typical Hispanic household in Rhode Island earns $30,797 a year, far less than the $42,748 national median income for Hispanics and roughly half the median income of white Rhode Island households of $61,406 annually. Lower incomes may be the result of pervasive unemployment. The unemployment rate among the state’s Hispanic population of 9.1% is far higher than the unemployment rate among the state’s white population of 5.2%.

Unlike most states in the Northeast, where Hispanic populations are disproportionately Puerto Rican, Dominicans comprise the largest share of the Hispanic population in Rhode Island.

4. New Jersey
> Pct. residents Hispanic:
18.6%
> Hispanic homeownership rate: 35.3% (7th lowest)
> Hispanic unemployment rate: 7.6% (10th highest)
> Hispanic incarceration rate: 609 per 100,000 people (13th lowest)

New Jersey’s Hispanic population of over 1.6 million is one of the largest in the country. Just like in neighboring New York, economic conditions for Hispanics in the state lag far behind those of New Jersey’s white residents. Though median incomes in New Jersey are relatively high for both white and Hispanic residents, income inequality along racial and ethnic lines is also among the highest in the nation. In New Jersey, the typical Hispanic household earns $34,388 less than the typical white household, a difference that is more than double the national disparity of $16,874. Lower incomes among Hispanics likely contribute to lower than average homeownership rates. The 35.3% homeownership rate among Hispanics in New Jersey is well below the corresponding 45.0% national figure. Meanwhile, the homeownership rate among the state’s white residents is 75.8%, slightly higher than the 71.0% corresponding national rate.

Health outcomes among New Jersey’s Hispanic residents are also relatively poor. The infant mortality rate is higher for Hispanics than it is for whites, a departure from the national trend.

3. Pennsylvania
> Pct. residents Hispanic:
6.1%
> Hispanic homeownership rate: 39.4% (10th lowest)
> Hispanic unemployment rate: 7.7% (9th highest)
> Hispanic incarceration rate: 2,001 per 100,000 people (3rd highest)

In Pennsylvania, Hispanics are far more likely to be incarcerated than their white neighbors. For every 100,000 Hispanic Pennsylvanians, 2,001 are in prison, a stark contrast from the white incarceration rate of only 375 per 100,000. The disparity in incarceration rates between whites and Hispanics in Pennsylvania is one of the largest of any state in the country.

Not only are Hispanics disproportionately incarcerated in Pennsylvania, but they are also far more likely to face serious financial hardship. Roughly 32% of the state’s Hispanic population lives below the poverty line, one of this highest Hispanic poverty rates in the United States and far higher than the 9.7% poverty rate among white state residents.

2. Connecticut
> Pct. residents Hispanic:
14.3%
> Hispanic homeownership rate: 32.7% (5th lowest)
> Hispanic unemployment rate: 11.3% (2nd highest)
> Hispanic incarceration rate: 1,195 per 100,000 people (10th highest)

Connecticut residents are some of the wealthiest in the nation. High incomes, however, are largely limited to white households. The median income of white households of $78,959 is nearly the highest in the country. It is also more than double the median income of Hispanic households, which at less than $40,000 is also one of the lower incomes compared with Hispanic households in other states. Similarly, while the poverty rate among white people in the state of 6.1% is the lowest such rate nationwide, 26.5% of Hispanic state residents live in poverty. White residents are also far more likely than Hispanic residents to own their homes, adding to the wealth disparities between the ethnic groups. More than three in four white households are owned by their occupants, in stark contrast with the Hispanic homeownership rate of approximately one in every three homes.

1. Massachusetts
> Pct. residents Hispanic:
10.2%
> Hispanic homeownership rate: 21.9% (the lowest)
> Hispanic unemployment rate: 11.0% (3rd highest)
> Hispanic incarceration rate: 928 per 100,000 people (22nd highest)

While Massachusetts is one of the best places to live as a white person, it is the worst state for Hispanic Americans. Compared to white state workers, Hispanics are more than twice as likely to be unemployed, nearly the largest gap of any state. At 11%, the Hispanic or Latino unemployment rate is also nearly the highest in the United States. As is the case across the nation, Hispanic, Latino, and other non-white Massachusetts residents are far more likely to be subjected to lending discrimination. A recent study from the University of Massachusetts found that even when controlling for income, minority borrowers are less likely to receive a mortgage than their white peers in Boston and across Massachusetts. Only 21.9% of homes with Hispanic heads of households in the state are owned by their occupants — the lowest percentage for Hispanics nationwide. By contrast, the white homeownership rate in Massachusetts is 69.0%.

Mexicans make up by far the largest share of Americans identifying as Hispanic and Latino. In Massachusetts, however, Puerto Ricans make up 42% of Hispanics in the state, by far the largest proportion.

Methodology

To determine the 10 worst states for Hispanic and Latino Americans, 24/7 Wall St. created an index of nine measures to assess racial gaps in access to resources and opportunities in each state. Creating the index in this way highlights disparities between racial groups rather than what may be a particularly poor socioeconomic climate in a state for both whites and Hispanics. For each measure, we constructed and normalized an index from the disparities between white and Hispanic Americans. We excluded states where Hispanic or Latino residents comprise less than 5% of the population.

To construct the index, we used 2014 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) on median household income, poverty, high school and college educational attainment rates, and homeownership rates — each broken out by ethnicity. Unemployment rates for 2015 came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Incarceration rates came from the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based think tank, and are as of 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we considered 2009-2013 rate estimates for age-adjusted mortality and infant mortality.

In addition to data incorporated into the index, we also considered the share of students with limited English proficiency from the U.S. Department of Education, as well as estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population in each state from the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington D.C. Data on age, citizenship status, and country of origin come from the 2014 ACS.

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