As the coronavirus loosens its grip on Massachusetts, a new report highlights the economic, academic, and health disparities faced by the state’s Latino community well before the pandemic wreaked havoc on the Commonwealth.
The state’s Latino population is among the most diverse in the country. Yet, they lag behind other groups in Massachusetts and nationwide when it comes to economic, educational, and health outcomes, according to a report released by Boston Indicators, UMass Boston’s Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy, and the Latino Equity Fund.
In the report, researchers call on the state to fill in the opportunity gap Latinos have encountered for decades with solutions like job training, home buyer assistance programs, and economic assistance to Latino-owned businesses.
“Our Latino communities in Massachusetts are struggling more than other groups in the Commonwealth, and nationally,” said Trevor Mattos, Boston Indicators senior research manager and co-author of the report. “These metrics feel unbalanced given that Massachusetts is such a high opportunity, income, and wealth state.”
Among the report’s key findings is that the state’s Latino demographics vary from the rest of the United States. While Mexicans dominate the majority of states’ Latino populations, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans make up the largest share of Massachusetts’ Latino community at 40 percent and 19 percent, respectively. In comparison, Mexicans make up 6 percent of the state’s population.
The report relies on census data and national datasets on educational attainment. It classifies Latinos as people of Hispanic or Latin American origin and doesn’t include Brazilians in its analysis. Because of the limits census categories present, Mattos said it’s also hard to tell if people of certain intersectional groups, like Afro-Latinos, are a part of the findings.
Latinos in the state are also more likely than other groups to face food insecurity, the report found. About one in four Massachusetts Latinos are food insecure, compared to about 10 percent, 6 percent, and about 5 percent of Black, white, and Asian American and Pacific Islander residents, respectively.
Statistics in the report showed that the economic fallout of the pandemic disproportionately impacted Latinos. More than one in four Latinos in Massachusetts were unemployed during the second quarter of 2020. Meanwhile, other groups’ unemployment rates rose to between 13 and 17 percent.
Aixa Beauchamp, cofounder and co-chair of the Latino Equity Fund, which supported the report, said the pandemic underscored how difficult it is for Bostonians without post-secondary degrees to stay afloat. Latinos, who face many hurdles to pursuing college, were hardest hit.
“Boston’s a great place to live,” Beauchamp said. “But it’s hard if you don’t have a college degree.”
Some of the report’s most staggering findings lie in K-12 academic performance. While most Massachusetts students outperform peers in other states, Latino students scored lower than most states. Latino eighth-graders placed 28th in reading and 21st in math when compared to other states. Other racial and ethnic groups placed first, second, or third.
These differences were more pronounced for low-income students. Low-income eighth-graders in Massachusetts that identify as Latino placed 39th in reading and 35th in math.
Amanda Fernandez, CEO of Boston-based Latinos for Education, said the lack of resources devoted to ESL programs and leaving Latinos out of conversations on academic inequities are some of the many reasons Latino students in the state lag behind their peers time and time again.
“Massachusetts is number one in the nation for education outcomes, but only number one for some,” Fernandez said.
The report also outlined historical and geographic factors that led to the current landscape. Conflicts at the turn of the 20th century and the need for seasonal labor drew Puerto Ricans and Dominicans to the state. Many Latinos living in Gateway Cities like Lawrence, Lynn, and Springfield, are out of reach from Boston’s stronger, higher-paying labor market.
In the report’s final section, researchers offered solutions to the economic, academic, and health inequities Latinos face. Improving job training in all sectors could secure higher pay and upper mobility for Latinos. Bolstering early college education and community college programs could promote college completion. Raising the amount of philanthropic dollars funneled to Latino-led nonprofits beyond the current two percent could ensure groups already doing the work have the resources to sustain and grow.
“We need to do a much better job of recognizing the demographic changes in our state and bringing our Latinos up to par,” Beauchamp said.
Beauchamp and Fernandez agreed that federal American Rescue Plan Act funds could also fuel more creative thinking around opportunities for the state’s Latino communities.
Despite the report’s sobering findings, Mattos said he hopes it doesn’t overshadow the positive contributions that Latinos have made and continue to make to Massachusetts.
“None of these statistics take away from the way that we have incredible Latino communities,” he said. “These are vibrant, talented, and entrepreneurial folks.”
If anything, Mattos said he hopes the report serves as a starting point to get his community the resources, capital, and support that’s long overdue.
“The future of the Commonwealth is bound together with that of our Latino community,” Mattos said. “We need to pay a bit more attention and make more targeted investments.” Because in the end, “that’ll create greater opportunities across the board.”