Poor Living Conditions
Despite increased commercial power, the conditions that many Latinos face including opportunities for improvement generally rank far below that of whites in Rhode Island, as well as other Latinos across the country. The percentage of the state’s Latinos who live below the poverty line increased from 30 percent to 36 percent during the 1990s the highest rate of poverty among Latinos in the
country. Rhode Island’s Latino population also has the largest percentage of its children living in poverty, the highest rate of female-headed families (40 percent of Latino households are headed by a single adult), and the lowest median income of all Latinos living in the United States.
The chief reasons for these conditions are unemployment and underemployment. Many Latino migrants initially came to work in the manufacturing sector, but the availability of those jobs has decreased with the closing of factories in recent years. The unemployment rate among Latinos in 2000 was 8.9 percent, the highest rate among all ethnic groups in the state. Finding jobs is an even more difficult task for those who are not fluent in English. Education or lack thereof also is a concern. About half Rhode Island’s Latinos have less than a high-school education, and only 62 percent of Latino students graduate from high school the lowest rate of any ethnic group in the state. In addition, Latinos make up only a small percentage of those earning advanced degrees in the state’s colleges and universities. Age also is an issue. The average age of the state’s Latinos in 2002 was 23.6, the lowest of any ethnic group in Rhode Island and the lowest among Latinos in New England, which suggests a lack of established social networks to provide support.6
The availability of, and access to, services to improve these conditions has been a long-standing concern among Latinos. Cutbacks in federally funded social programs during the 1980s came just as many Latinos began migrating.7 As a result, many have turned to the Catholic Church or community groups like Progreso Latino or the Hispanic Social Services Association (HSSA) of Rhode Island for help.