Wednesday, October 25, 2006

For Hispanics, Poverty Is Relative

The cat is out of the bag: The majority of Latino immigrants in the United States are poor. By one calculation, up to three-fifths are "working poor" or "lower middle class," with annual incomes of less than $30,000.

The bad news seems worse when one considers that as Hispanics gained in the U.S. population, the share of Hispanics in poverty doubled, from 12 percent in 1980 to 25 percent in 2004. Recent immigrants fared worse. In 2006 the U.S. government drew the poverty line at $20,000 annually for a family of four, or a little more than $1,600 a month. But for those newly arrived from Latin America, the average monthly salary was $900, according to a report released last week by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

The IDB report found that immigrants will send home about $45 billion in 2006, creating one of "the broadest and most effective poverty alleviation programs in the world." It also found that the majority of migrants want to buy a family home or open a small business in their home country. One-third said they had already made investments, mainly in real estate. These are not the actions of the economically deprived.

What Hispanics do with their money and how they live reflect not deprivation or exclusion but an attitude of abundance. Poverty is relative. Less than $20,000 a year may rank an immigrant as statistically poor, but this income may be seen as a fortune to someone who was making less than a tenth of that back home.

So at the end of the day what do we have? A growing number of immigrant poor? Well, yes. A growing number of depressed and downtrodden? No. Hispanic immigrants, like their immigrant predecessors, are optimists. The IDB found that even though 64 percent of remittance senders have an annual household income of less than $30,000, most believe their economic situation in the United States is good (58 percent) or excellent (10 percent), and they are confident about the future.

The reality is that rather than increasing poverty rates here, Hispanic immigrants are helping decrease poverty rates south of the border -- and with that they are doing more than anyone else to stem the future flow of immigration.
I have written before on how the statistics on poverty in the US are suspect. Here is another case. If the number of poor is increasing, but the people that are adding to the poor are earning 10 times as much as they would otherwise, is that really a bad thing?

via The Washington Post

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