Latino or Hispanic people have made some advancements in society over the last few decades, though for many, the promises of fulfillment and advancement have been delayed or derailed. Over time, the population has grown significantly both in raw terms and as a percentage of the overall US population. This has been fueled by immigration from Mexico, though the US has seen an influx of immigrants from other parts of Central America and the Caribbean, as well.

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Latino population growth has been severe over the last four decades. In 1970, just more than 10,000,000 Latino people populated the US. In 2010, more than 45 million Latino people live in the US, with some estimating that the number might actually be a bit higher. Because of some of the reporting challenges associated with undocumented immigration, it is difficult to pinpoint a precise current number at any given time. This population growth has been underscored by a lack of opportunity in some instances, which can be linked to a denial of educational opportunity.

Importantly, the rates of education among Latino people have grown since 1970. Still, Latino people have not seen educational attainment growth at rates as high as either white people in America or black people in America. Only 30-percent of Latino people completed four years of high school or more in 1970. By 2010, that number had risen to around 50-percent of Latino people. White people went from a rate of around 55-percent to a rate of around 80-percent over that same time frame. Importantly, black people in America lagged behind Latino people in high school or better attainment in 1970. Today around 75-percent of black people in America have high school or better attainment, far outpacing that of Latino people. The gains in college education have been modest, as well. Around five-percent of Latino people completed college in 1970. By 2000, that percentage had doubled, but it still meant that only a meager ten-percent of Latinos had finished four years of college.

The median household income for Latino people in 1970 was just less than $30,000. Today, the number is just more than $35,000. This lags well behind the median household income for white people in America, which is more than $58,000 each year. While the percentage change since 1970 has been similar for Latinos and whites, Latino people have not been able to close this gap by any appreciable amount. This suggests strongly that while advances in education have helped Latino families make more money, the fact that white families have outpaced Latino families in educational opportunity contributes to the large income advantage that white households still retain.

At current, Latino families and their children are not accessing the higher reaches of education that are required to unlock higher earning jobs. While more Latino children are going to and completing high school, they are not completing college as often, and they are not going to grad school as often. This has locked many Latino people out of the higher paying professions, keeping the median household income quite low. Importantly, there are a number of reasons why the promise of education has not been delivered to Latino families in the way one might expect. Language barriers and underfunded schools contribute to this. Given that America pays for its schools through property taxation, the low household income perpetuates itself by draining schools of resources. This makes it more difficult for schools to bridge the language gap. On top of that, standardized testing can be more difficult for Latino students, as those tests are somewhat geared toward the cultural sensibilities of white people in America. There may also be structural racism at play, keeping Latino people from accessing advantages that white students have in terms of school admission and workplace attainment.

  • Bischoff, K., & Reardon, S. F. (2014). Residential segregation by income, 1970-2009. Diversity and Disparities: America Enters a New Century. New York: The Russell Sage Foundation.
  • Carpenter, C. W. (2016). Immigrants, self-employment, ethnicity, and growth in the United States (Doctoral dissertation, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY).
  • Covarrubias, A., & Lara, A. (2013). The undocumented (im) migrant educational pipeline: The influence of citizenship status on educational attainment for people of Mexican origin. Urban Education, 0042085912470468.
  • Nuñez, A. M., Hoover, R. E., Pickett, K., Stuart-Carruthers, A. C., & Vázquez, M. (2013). Latinos in higher education and Hispanic-serving institutions: Creating conditions for success. Wiley/Jossey-Bass.