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Poverty rate rises especially for Hispanics

More Americans are living in poverty than ever before — and for Hispanics, the trends are especially bleak.

Their poverty rate went up 1.3 percentage points in 2010, the sharpest annual rise of any group except blacks. More than a quarter of Hispanics — some 13.2 million people — were living below poverty level, more than double the 9.9 percent rate of non-Hispanic whites, according to a new report from the US Census Bureau. The median household income for Hispanics dropped from $38,667 to $37,759 — a decrease of 2.3 percent.

“It isn’t good,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director at the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington. “The unemployment rate is higher, and household wealth declined more than in any other group.”

Hispanic household wealth fell a whopping 66 percent between 2005 and 2009, according to a separate Pew analysis.

As the largest minority group in the United States, with 50 million people making up approximately 15 percent of the country, and among the youngest, the Census Bureau’s poverty statistics are particularly alarming for children.

“The brunt of the bad economy is especially affecting minorities — and the kids in these minorities are showing up in these numbers,” says William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow with the Brookings Institution in Washington.

For example, there are now 6.1 million poor Hispanics under the age of 18 — more than any other single group. It's even bigger than the 5 million non-Hispanic whites, Frey points out.

There are a few bright spots. College enrollment among Hispanics surged 24 percent in 2010, according to Pew. In one of the few hopeful statistics in the Census Bureau’s report, the percentage of Hispanics without health insurance, while still high at 30.7 percent, actually went down slightly, decreasing by nearly a percentage point.

“The home ownership rate has also risen a little bit,” says Lopez.

More poverty rate coverage

Schuyler Velasco is a contributor to the Christian Science Monitor.

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