latinosnyc02Latinos in New York City are a large working class group but are disadvantaged on many counts. Creating a better policy framework is vital to improving the conditions of this community. Advocacy by non-profits is showing the way.

Latinos have been living in the United States for hundreds of years, specifically taking residence in larger cities like New York City (NYC). However, the Latino experience is not, by any means, homogenous because it can differ due to social and economic reasons. Subsequently, the adversities faced by Latino communities are varied, and the solutions to these problems can be wide-ranging, but not necessarily interchangeable.

To understand the Latino experience, it is important to define the word “Latino” and explain why NYC has become home to more than eight million Latinos, leading Los Angeles’ and Houston’s population combined, as stated in the United Stated 2010 Census. According to Taylor Pittman, news reporter for the Huffington Post, the term Latino refers to people of Latin American origin, which is not the same as the term Hispanic, which refers to people of Spanish-speaking origin. Therefore, Latino identity encompasses all of Latin America, including Brazil. Latin American countries, in a sense, are a product of European colonialism. The influx of people gave rise to different races and racial groups. For example, there are white Latinos due to their white ancestries in the same manner that there are Afro-Latinos/Black Latinos who are decedents from African slaves.

In the case of NYC, Latinos make up over 2.4 million New York City inhabitants, making them the largest minority group in New York, before African-Americans as stated on the New York City Department of City Planning’s website. The website also notes that one reason as to why Latinos are the largest minority groups in NYC is because it is home to the largest population of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans than any other city in the world.

Based on data from the Pew Hispanic Research Center, on a state level, Latinos ages sixteen and older, make a median annual income of $23,000, which is $14K lower than their White, non-Latino counterparts and $7K lower than their Black, non-Latino counterparts. To further add, twenty-two percent of Latinos in New York are in poverty. Latinos make up twenty-four percent of New York homeowners, while Whites make up sixty-six percent and Blacks make up thirty-one percent. Though these numbers are representative of the New York State as a whole, this data gives us an understanding of the economic position of Latinos.

Low incomes are not the only issue here. Gender disparities in income within the Latino community make the situation worse. According to the Policy Report: Advancing Pay Equity in New York City, published by NYC Public Advocate Letitia James’s office, women of color make significantly less than white males, more specifically, Latina women make 54% less than their white male counterparts, which the highest percentage compared to Black non-Latinas (45%) and Asian women (37%). Latina women, working full-time, make 46 cents for every dollar a white man earns or in other words, when a white man earns $40,439, a Latina woman will earn $33,671. The report also points out that this discrepancy is also eight percent larger than the rest of the United States. These statistics are somewhat alarming because Latina women are, in fact, better educated than their Latino-male counterpart. In fact, a dissertation written by Justine Calcagno, a professor of psychology at Hunter College, NYC, found that in New York City Latina women graduated from high school and higher institutions in greater numbers than Latino men, yet they earn less than any other ethnic and racial group.

What does this all mean? Even though Latinos make up a majority of the NYC population, they are making significantly less than their white and other minority counterparts, therefore Latinos are more likely to live in poverty, thus preventing them from becoming social and economically mobile.

Policy gaps

There is a dearth of specific policies aimed to help the Latino community in NYC. However, as of the past year, there have been certain bills introduced to the New York State Senate floor that would have a positive effect on the Latino community. For example, Senate Bill S2451 requires car wash workers to be paid minimum wage without allowance for gratuities. In NYC, Latino immigrants make up a large percentage of the car washing workforce, often working 60 hours or more during a week and getting as little as $125 a week for their work. Another piece of legislation, Bill A6398A, prevents racial profiling at routine traffic stops. According to data published by the New York Civil Liberties Union, there was a total of 18,353 innocent New Yorkers stopped by NYPD. Out of these people who were stopped, 29% were Latino males, compared to 54% black males and 11% white males.

New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, has made tackling social and economic equalities a focal point of his administration’s work. In response to de Blasio’s call to action, the Hispanic Federation, a non-profit aimed to uplift the Hispanic/Latino community, drafted a “policy paper” in 2015, titled Growth with Equity: Meeting the Workforce Development needs of Latinos in New York City. This paper highlights several ways in which to better serve minority communities for example expansions of services and initiatives for unemployed people. The paper also calls for expansion of youth programs to better educate children and teens, and prepare them for higher learning institutions.

The Hispanic Federation is one example of a non-governmental entity taking up the role of advocating for the Latino community. In fact, many of these campaigns are spearheaded by NGOs rather than bureaucratic agencies. Some of these organizations take up a wide range of issues, while others are more specific. For instance, the Community Service Society of New York (CSSNY) focuses on providing educational and community service opportunities to Black and Latino youth in order to keep them away from violence.

Way forward

While politicians have focused on the problems faced by the Latino community they need to create public-private partnerships for sustainable change in the status of minority/vulnerable communities. For example, on September 12, 2016, a California bill was passed to grant farmworkers overtime pay. This bill came into effect due to the efforts of grassroots campaigning from farmworkers’ advocacy groups in California. This is a major step forward for the farming communities since minorities, primarily Latinos, make up a large percentage of farm labor demographics, especially in California. This is a good model for NYC to adopt where the suggestions of social movements can inform legislation.

Effective collaboration and communication are needed to improve policies to improve the conditions of Latino community. Targeted investments are needed to meet the basic needs of minority groups such as better schools, health care, and labor rights in the workplace. Such changes can, in fact, will improve the quality of life and reduce the social and economic disparities among minority groups in NYC.