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Latinos are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States. The Hispanic population in the United States increased by more than 50 percent between 1990 and 2000 to 32.8 million, representing 12.0 percent of the total population. Youthfulness, birthrate, and levels of immigration have contributed to the growth of the Latino population. In 2000, 39.1 percent of the Hispanic population was foreign-born.
Hispanic immigration to the United States has reached unprecedented levels and has dispersed across the nation, including states, regions, cities, and towns that previously had virtually no Latino residents. In addition, the diversity of national origin groups among the Hispanic population in the United States has increased. Latinos can be of any race and of more than twenty national origins. Emerging communities of Dominicans, Colombians, El Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, and Peruvians, for example, have added to the larger and more established communities of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans.
Hispanics are one of the poorest ethnic groups in the United States. Hispanics have high rates of poverty among full-time workers and working husbands in intact families with children. Latinos may suffer from the effects of economic downturns more than non-Latinos and benefit less from periods of economic growth. Low levels of educational attainment compound Hispanic socioeconomic vulnerability.
However, compared to other racial and ethnic groups, Latinos present a profile that sometimes appears counterintuitive and is not sufficiently explained by existing wisdom or scholarship. One of the most striking examples is in the area of health. This “epidemiological paradox” is a dominant theme in Hispanic health research. In the aggregate, compared to other racial and ethnic groups, Latinos have lower age-adjusted death rates in the face of higher risk factors for most causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia and influenza, and suicide. In the case of birth outcomes, for example,
in spite of high risk factors, Latina birth outcomes more closely resemble those of the non-Hispanic white and Asian/Pacific Islanders populations, which had higher income, more education, and better access to first-trimester care. None of this would be expected from the standard norms and models. (Hayes-Bautista 2002, 221)
When applied to Latino populations, established theoretical models that explain patterns and variations of illness and disease yield “results that are confusing, seemingly paradoxical, and of little use in creating policies and programs aimed at the Latino population” (Hayes-Bautista 2002, 216).
The growing need for Latino-based metrics and models is also evident in the study of homelessness. Hispanics and African-Americans have similar socioeconomic profiles, with, most important, high poverty rates. Yet studies have found that African-Americans are overrepresented and Latinos under-represented among the homeless population. Researching Latino homelessness can contribute to the increased well-being of the Hispanic population, and the knowledge gained may also benefit the well-being of non-Latinos.
Understanding homelessness among Hispanics requires an especially nuanced conceptual and methodological framework that appropriately models a number of dimensions that determine within- and between-group variation. Latinos differ from each other in terms of national origin, citizenship status, race, and English-language proficiency. These factors may affect the dynamic of homelessness among Hispanics. This entry discusses and analyzes Latino homelessness. It presents an overview of homelessness among Hispanics, a discussion of the pan-Hispanic rubric, and an analysis of how social, cultural, and economic factors affect Latino homelessness.
Counting Latino Homeless
Counting the homeless is a complex methodological and definitional issue because “the essential characteristic of homelessness is its transience, instability, and flux” (Burt, Aron, Lee, and Valente 2001, 2).
There are bureaucratic and programmatic definitions of the phenomenon that complicate the issue. The “Shelter and Street” (S-Night) method utilized by the United States Census Bureau in the 1990 census is an example of the attempt to cope with the inherent problems in enumerating and statistically sampling the homeless. S-Night relied on an experimental research design to accurately account for the homeless in both the “streets” and “shelters.”
Counting Hispanics has become one of the most complicated efforts of the Census Bureau, ultimately necessitating the creation of a two-stage racial and ethnic identification classification. Question 5 on the 2000 census form established Hispanic ethnicity, and question 6 established racial identity. Another compromise in the 2000 census was in using the terms Hispanic and Latino interchangeably. In 2000, people of “Spanish/Hispanic/Latino” origin could identify as “Mexican,” “Puerto Rican,” “Cuban,” or “other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino” (people who marked “other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino” had an additional space to write in their national origins, such as “Salvadoran” or “Dominican”). The question on Spanish/Hispanic/Latino origin was separate from the question on race. Hispanic origin is considered an ethnicity; therefore, Latinos may be of any race. Hispanics could identify from over twelve designated racial categories including “White,” “Black/African American/Negro,” “American Indian or Alaska Native,” or “Asian or Pacific Islander.”
Immigration and language also impede an accurate count of the Latino population. A substantial number of Hispanics are undocumented immigrants and are less likely to be counted in government figures. Many Latinos are unlikely to be fluent in English. Most are Spanish-speaking, but a substantial number speak indigenous Native American languages such as Quechua and Nahuatl.
The Latino Homeless Population
Fielding accurate counts of the Latino homeless population is a demographic challenge. However, some rigorous efforts have established reliable estimates. Based on the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (NSHAPC), a comprehensive, longitudinal national data set on urban, suburban, and rural homelessness, in 1996 non-Hispanic whites comprised 52 percent of the U.S. poor adult population and 41 percent of all currently homeless clients. Non-Hispanic blacks comprised 23 percent of the U.S. poor adult population and 40 percent of all currently homeless clients. Hispanics comprised 20 percent of the U.S. poor adult population and 11 percent of all currently homeless clients. A 2000 census report estimated that the percent of the population in emergency and transitional shelters in 2000 was 33.5 percent non-Hispanic white, 40.4 percent non-Hispanic black, and 19.9 percent Latino. These two studies reflect the relative underrepresentation of
Latinos in the homeless population.
Documenting the demographic profile of the Hispanic homeless population is further complicated by calculating what proportion of Latino homeless are immigrants. Although “some subset of the Latino homeless consists of immigrants . . . there is scant direct evidence on the immigrant share of the total” (Baker 1996, 133). Differences by subgroup (for example, Mexican versus Puerto Rican) and location (region, state, and locality) also vary the profile of the Hispanic homeless population.
The “Latino Paradox”
Recognizing the need for caution in light of Latino demographic diversity, the preponderance of evidence suggests that as an aggregate, Hispanics demonstrate a paradoxical pattern of homelessness. Despite their socioeconomic position, Latinos are underrepresented among the homeless population in the United States. What factors explain this “Latino paradox”?
Demographic Differences between Latinos and Other Racial and Ethnic Groups
Demographically, Hispanics differ from non-Hispanic groups because of race, language, culture, and immigration. Variations occur among Hispanics by Latino subgroup, geography, nativity and citizenship status, race, and gender. The Asian-American population has a number of similarities to Hispanics. Asian-American communities are greatly affected by linguistic and cultural diversity because various national origin groups comprise the panethnic grouping. Immigration is also particularly salient within Asian-American communities. However, language operates differently for Latinos than for Asians.
Although it is characterized by pronounced regional and national dialects, the Spanish language creates a homogenizing force that is lacking among Asian-Americans. For non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks, race is a more inherently unifying characteristic than among Latinos. Non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks are primarily native-born populations for whom immigration does not have the same effect as with Hispanics and Asian-Americans.
Age sets Latinos apart from other racial and ethnic groups. Hispanics are more likely to be under eighteen years old than non-Hispanic whites. The median age of Latinos in 2001 was the lowest of any racial and ethnic group at 26.2 years of age. In the same year, the median age was 36.9 for non-Hispanic whites, 30.3 for non-Hispanic blacks, 33.0 for Asian-Americans, 28.1 for American Indians or Alaska Natives, and 27.3 for Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders. In addition, compared to other immigrants by region of birth, Hispanic immigrants were younger. In 2000, the median age of the Latin American foreign-born population was 35, compared to 39 years for those from Asia and 50 for Europeans.
Household composition for Hispanics differs from other racial and ethnic groups. Latinos are more likely to live in larger family households than non-Hispanic whites. In 2000, 20 percent of Hispanic families had three or more children compared to 12 percent of non-Hispanic black families and 9 percent of non-Hispanic white families. Fertility rates are higher for Latinos than for other racial and ethnic groups. For 2000, the projected total fertility rate, the number of births that 1,000 women would have in their lifetime based on birthrates, was 3,108 for Hispanics compared to 2,193 for non-Hispanic blacks and 2,114 for non-Hispanic whites.
Socioeconomic Differences between Latinos and Other Racial and Ethnic Groups
There are significant socioeconomic differences between Hispanics and other racial and ethnic groups. Latinos are generally the least educated of all racial and ethnic groups and have the highest dropout rates. Hispanics are more likely to be unemployed than non-Hispanic whites. Latinos tend to experience a systematic disadvantage in the labor market. Median income rates for Latinos are among the lowest ranking of any racial and ethnic group.
The level of residential segregation of Latinos is second only to non-Hispanic blacks. However, residential segregation has been steadily decreasing for non-Hispanic blacks but has increased for Hispanics.
Home ownership rates are lower among Hispanics than non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks. In part, this is due to the fact that immigrants are less likely to own a home than those who are native-born, but these differences in the rate of home ownership between natives and immigrants become negligible after ten years of residency.
Overall, Hispanics most closely resemble non-Hispanic blacks in their socioeconomic profile. Given their respective economic vulnerabilities, the rate of homelessness among the two groups should be comparable, yet they are not. The Latino paradox in homelessness may be simply the result of flawed sampling methods. Hispanics may be more heavily represented in street samples than in shelter samples, and undocumented immigration might deflate overall counts, but methodological deficiencies do not appear to sufficiently explain the Latino paradox.
Cultural Differences between Latinos and Other Racial and Ethnic Groups
Cultural differences have been assumed to explain the Latino paradox. Cultural values and behavioral norms are thought to increase Hispanics’ sense of solidarity and maximize their social capital. The two most cited in the literature are “allocentrism,” a sense of identity and commitment to collectives and groups rather than autonomous individuals, and “familism,” loyalty and attachment to one’s nuclear family and extended family. Hispanics are characterized as focusing on intergroup and intragroup harmony, avoiding conflict and confrontation, preferring closeness in interpersonal space, maintaining traditional male/female gender-role expectations, and having a flexible time orientation that prizes the “here and now” over the future. Most of these generalized cultural values and behavioral norms are typical not only of Hispanic culture but of “traditional” societies in general. Many of these cultural values and norms are also similar to traits associated with the “culture of poverty” thesis. The culture of poverty thesis stresses the preeminent role of culture and behavior in intergenerational poverty and the failure of economic development and modernization in many non-Western societies (for example, the inability to delay gratification or the lack of individualism and competitiveness).
Arguably, “there is no commonly agreed-upon conceptual construct for Latino culture, although cultural-sensitivity curricula have attempted to reduce it to a dozen or so characteristics applied uniformly to all Latinos everywhere” (Hayes-Bautista 2002, 232). Cultural values and norms do not adequately explain the Latino paradox. The role of risk factors may be more explanatory.
Risk factors can be grouped along three dimensions: individual characteristics (the prevalence of mental illness and substance abuse); structural influences (economic position, housing markets, public housing and shelter availability, and residential segregation); and “middle range” factors (social networks and social support).
The pervasive effects of mental illness and substance abuse have long been debated in the literature on homelessness. Similarly, there is the possibility that a greater prevalence of mental illness and substance abuse within a racial or ethnic group relative to others might be reflected in higher rates of homelessness. The evidence does not indicate that mental illness and substance abuse explain the Latino homelessness paradox. In fact, it tends to suggest that in comparison to non-Hispanic whites,
Latinos and non-Hispanic blacks are quite similar in their epidemiological patterns of mental illness and drug abuse. For the most part, Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks do not differ enough in terms of their economic position to explain the paradox. Each group has high rates of unemployment and poverty. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, African-Americans and Latinos are both more likely to experience numerous episodes of homelessness and to be homeless with children. These similarities underscore the economic vulnerability of both groups.
There are differences in the area of housing that may contribute to the differential outcomes between Latinos and non-Hispanic blacks. Hispanics are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to inhabit physically substandard housing and to live in areas that have been most affected by overall population loss, disinvestments, and recurring issues of abandonment and blight. This is even more likely for non-Hispanic blacks. Non-Hispanic blacks rely on federal government housing supports more than Hispanics, but these supports have dwindled since the 1980s. Although rates of residential segregation for Latinos are the fastest growing of any group, non-Hispanic blacks still have the highest rates and tend to suffer the greatest amount of housing discrimination.
Differences in Social Networks between Latinos and Other Racial and Ethnic Groups
Differences in the structure of social networks (size, density, and diversity) and content of social support (emotional aid, and exchange of guidance, information, personal services, and material assistance) between Hispanics and other groups may explain the paradox. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, social networks among both African-Americans and Latinos are smaller, more kin-based, denser, and less diverse. There is some evidence, especially higher rates of overcrowding in housing units, that Hispanics use a wider range of housing arrangements within their networks than non-Hispanic blacks. Diverse housing arrangements (young adults living with parents, unrelated adults or multiple families within the same household, and older parents living with adult children) may lessen the reliance on shelters and increase avoidance of the street.
These differences between non-Hispanic blacks and Latinos in the use of social networks may be the result of their history and incorporation into the U.S. political and economic system. Non-Hispanic blacks have a longer history of involvement with civil rights-era social programming and the provision of government services. As a result, these services may have enriched existing network resources. Lax enforcement of civil rights policies and the ongoing disinvestment in government service provision have depleted these resources within the social networks of non-Hispanic blacks. The variety of housing arrangements currently deployed by Latinos also operated among poor, urban non-Hispanic blacks to a greater extent in the past, but have been eroded by changes in public and social policy. Social networks among non-Hispanic blacks still play a vital role in coping with poverty and forestalling homelessness. Non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics have a longer time gap between their last steady job and the onset of a current spell of homelessness than do non-Hispanic whites. This suggests a greater ability to avoid homelessness in periods of financial distress. The use of social supports plays a crucial part in this process.
Latino families and communities include immigrant members. Latino social networks differ from most racial and ethnic groups other than Asian-Americans because of their inclusion of immigrant ties. Immigration affects the majority of Hispanics’ social networks. Immigrant social networks are well-developed sources of social support: “At both ends of the migration channel, kinfolk and hometown friends can greatly minimize those risks by providing loans, safe havens, and information” (Suro 1998, 34). Immigrant families and communities operate as income, resource, and information-pooling units that “raise capital, vouchsafe the investment’s legitimacy, and, when it produces a profit . . . dividends in the form of remittances [are] sent home by the migrant” (Suro 1998, 34). The circulation of people and remittances makes Latino social networks transnational in scope.
Immigrant social networks make barrios (neighborhoods, or groups of neighborhoods, in which Latinos are the predominant population) important zones for newcomers and distinct from communities that are primarily native-born. Latinos demonstrate a high level of geographic mobility. Hispanics tend to “move constantly within a metropolitan area to take advantage of housing and work opportunities, and they constantly move back and forth to their home countries” (Suro 1998,121). Under these conditions, place, family, and housing are highly unstable.
Mobility in the Hispanic community is facilitated and cushioned within the barrio. Immigrant social networks and social support make new labor and housing markets more manageable.
Latino Paradox or Latino Norm?
Race, language, immigration, and social networks make Latinos substantially different from other racial and ethnic groups. The appearance of paradoxical outcomes should not be surprising. The extent of these substantive differences calls into question the usefulness of the paradox metaphor. It may be more productive to shift the emphasis from the contradictory nature of the Hispanic profile relative to other racial and ethnic groups, to understanding the basis for baseline patterns of well-being among Latinos. This shift could generate data on the nature of Latino well-being and provide a conceptual model of Hispanic risk factors, facilitating the development of interventions and services, educational and training curricula, and policy models that better serve the needs of the Latino communities.
Hispanic health outcomes demonstrate the need for Latino-based norms and models. Generic categorizations do not sufficiently explain these outcomes. Notable exceptions to the epidemiological paradox underscore these limits. Hispanics are more likely to report being in fair or poor health than non-Hispanic whites of the same age group. Despite the lower age-adjusted death rates for a wide variety of illnesses compared to non-Hispanic whites, Latino death rates are higher for diabetes, HIV/AIDS, homicide and legal intervention, and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. Some studies have found that Latino immigrants are at higher risk for tuberculosis and other infectious diseases and that they may engage in more health risk behaviors than non-Hispanic whites resulting in illnesses such as sexually transmitted diseases. This is particularly the case among Hispanic migrant workers. Migrant workers typically live and work in substandard, unsanitary, and transient conditions. Generally, compared to non-Hispanic whites, Latinos are more likely to experience hazardous social and physical environments in residence and work. The basic work of documenting Latino norms needs to occur and, once these are established, variations from these norms and the risk factors that cause them can be identified.
Many of the exceptions to the Latino epidemiological paradox are associated with the phenomenon of acculturation. Acculturation is the level of cultural assimilation or incorporation of an individual to a foreign or receiving society. The pattern exhibited in the paradox is most applicable to Hispanic immigrants, in particular those from Mexico, Central America, and South America. The pattern breaks down the longer immigrants reside in the United States. This suggests that as Latino immigrants become acculturated, protective factors dissipate. The behaviors and social networks associated with the traditional culture of their homeland are eventually adapted to, or replaced by, the behavioral norms of the host society (for example, diets change, and family ties may become less binding).
The experience of non-Hispanic blacks and their utilization of social networks and resources could provide a glimpse of the future of homelessness among Hispanics. Perhaps the Puerto Rican experience provides the most important clues to predicting the direction of Latino homelessness in the United States. When compared to other Latino groups, non-Hispanic whites, and Asian-Americans, Puerto Ricans generally rank lowest on such indicators as per capita and household income, unemployment and poverty rates, receipt of public assistance, labor force participation, educational achievement, and rates of home ownership. Puerto Ricans are the exception the Latino epidemiological paradox. The overall profile of Puerto Rican economic and social well-being closely resembles that of African-Americans and Native Americans.
Unlike other Latino national-origin groups, Puerto Ricans, even those who are island-born, are citizens of the United States. Puerto Rico maintains a separate language and distinct traditions from the United States, yet it is one of the most Americanized countries in the Caribbean and Latin America.
Because of citizenship status, geographic proximity, and familiarity with U.S. culture, the acculturation experience for Puerto Ricans is very different from that of most other immigrant populations. The currents of acculturation are strong within Puerto Rican culture. It is conceivable that at one time the deployments of social supports that are now characteristic of Hispanic groups that exhibit the paradox also operated to a greater degree among Puerto Ricans but were eroded by the forces of acculturation. In the wake of acculturation, the cultural strengths and social supports that appear to play a critical role in explaining the underrepresentation of Hispanics among the homeless population may be fundamentally altered. In the process, the paradox of Latino homelessness might fully unravel.
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