Special Report

The Worst States for Hispanics and Latinos

Hispanic and Latino is a blanket designation that covers a wide range of Spanish-speaking and Latin American countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and Spain, to name a few.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Valerie Wilson, director of the Director, Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy for the non-partisan think tank Economic Policy Institute, explained that the composition of the Hispanic and Latino population in a given state varies widely based on the region of the country. “[In] the West, Southwest we’re talking largely about Mexican Americans. If we’re looking in Florida we’re largely going to be looking at Cuban Americans. If we’re in the Northeast, we’re looking at a larger percentage of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, other possible variations.”

In every state in the country, white residents are better off overall than Hispanic and Latino residents. In some states, however, the gaps in income, educational attainment, and incarceration are relatively small. This is often due in part to public policy designed to help integrate Spanish-speaking citizens.

In New Mexico, for example, 47.8% of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, the largest share of any state. Due to the prevalence of Hispanics, the state government has enacted multiple protections for Spanish speakers. For one, all ballots and voting forms in the state are printed in Spanish and English, and the inability to speak English cannot restrict anyone from serving on a jury or holding elected office. Perhaps not surprisingly, New Mexico ranks better on this list than all but one other state. To be sure, four of the six states with the highest concentration of Hispanics and Latinos rank in the top half of this list.

While some states with large Hispanic populations, such as New Mexico, exhibit less social and economic inequality, a small hispanic population by no means will have greater inequality. In fact, three of the states with the smallest hispanic populations, Vermont, West Virginia, and Maine, rank among the least unequal in the country.
In many of the states with smaller gaps between white and Hispanic residents, socioeconomic outcomes for white residents are not especially good. In West Virginia, for example, 17.4% of white residents live in poverty, the highest white poverty rate in the country. Due in part to a high white poverty rate, the poverty gap between the state’s white and Hispanic residents is only 5.4 percentage points, nearly the smallest in the country. West Virginia is one of several states that ranks as better for Hispanics in which socioeconomic outcomes are poor across the board.


To determine the worst states for Hispanic and Latino Americans, 24/7 Wall St. created an index of nine measures to assess gaps between the two demographic groups 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.

To construct the index, we used 2016 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) on median household income, poverty rates, high school and college educational attainment rates, and homeownership rates — each broken down by ethnicity. Unemployment rates for 2016 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 came from the 2016 ACS.

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