Latino Life in Georgia
Despite the concentration of Latinos in relatively high-paying, blue-collar jobs, Latinos remain at the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder in Georgia. On average nationally, Latinos fare better than African Americans in terms of
personal and family income and occupational attainment. In Georgia, this is not the case. There are three reasons for this. First, Georgia is home to some of the most affluent African Americans in the country, and the state has a sizeable African American middle class; African Americans tend to be less well off in other states. Second, many of the Latinos in Georgia are recent immigrants who have not yet developed the English language skills or job credentials to gain higher-paying jobs. Third, there are barriers in the social structure to upward mobility for Latinos.
Because of the high rates of poverty among Latinos in Georgia, many find it difficult to obtain adequate transportation, housing, and health care. Georgia has a poor public transportation infrastructure, and Latinos who do not own a vehicle find it difficult to get around. Carpooling is the means by which 40 percent of employed Latinos get to and from work, and although this system is efficient, it limits the other places that Latinos can visit beyond their workplace. It also keeps many from obtaining better-paying jobs elsewhere. For those who own their own vehicles, getting a license to drive it is also a problem. Most places offer driving tests only in English, and identification requirements are strict. For those Latinos who are immigrants, these barriers make it more difficult to obtain drivers licenses in Georgia than in many other U.S. states.
Many Latinos also live in unsafe, dilapidated housing. Those without transportation may choose poorer quality housing because it is within walking distance of work. For recent Latino immigrants with undeveloped English skills, dilapidated housing may be the only housing that they know about because they lack access to good information. For Latinos who are poor more than a quarter of Georgia’s Latinos bad housing may be all that they can afford.
One of the ironies of the fact that so many Latinos live in such poor quality housing stock is that many of them are employed in construction. They build homes that they cannot afford to buy. Additionally, some Latinos who can afford to buy homes have become victims of unscrupulous realtors. Housing fraud is a growing problem in Georgia, and Latinos are increasingly the victims.
For the poorest Latinos having several people living in a household is one means by which housing becomes affordable. This practice leads to problems of overcrowding, which is so widespread that Latinos in Georgia have a name for it, camas calientes (hot beds). The phrase refers to the situation whereby so many are sharing living quarters and sleeping in shifts that the mattresses never get cold. Some communities have reacted to camas calientes by enforcing housing codes that limit the number of people sharing living quarters. Such laws ignore the cultural tendency among Latinos to live in larger, multigenerational households. Additionally, these ordinances can lead to more overcrowding in other areas as residents are pushed from one locale to another.
Often Latinos live segregated from other Georgians in mobile home parks. Because of the heavy concentration of Latinos especially immigrants in these
places, trailers parks are increasingly becoming the targets of criminals. Particularly problematic are home invasions. Because many recent immigrants are uninformed about U.S. banking practices, they keep their money at home. Knowing that there are likely to be large sums of money in the trailers, criminals will target these Latino communities.