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New Boston Indicators report sheds light on history, economic issues of Massachusetts Latinos

¡Avancemos Ya! highlights economic challenges and opportunities to improve equity and wellbeing

May 11, 2022

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Boston – Massachusetts Latinos have faced significant economic and social barriers to success that predated the COVID-19 pandemic, but data compiled by Boston Indicators suggest possible opportunities to close gaps in education, employment and wellbeing. The new report, ¡Avancemos Ya!: Persistent Economic Challenges and Opportunities Facing Latinos in Massachusetts was compiled by Boston Indicators with the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at UMass Boston in partnership with the Latino Equity Fund at the Boston Foundation.

The report traces the historical roots of the economic challenges facing Massachusetts Latino communities even before the pandemic, including higher unemployment, higher poverty rates, high rates of food insecurity and low socioeconomic mobility, and suggests six possible explanations for them.

“The goal of the report is both to acknowledge the persistent economic struggles among our Latino communities and identify possible causal factors, and where appropriate to recognize where some progress has been made,” said Trevor Mattos, Senior Research Manager at Boston Indicators and co-author of the report. “We believe that by understanding the historical context and other factors unique to Massachusetts that have led to where we are today, we can develop more effective solutions.”

“At a time when we have an unprecedented labor shortage across multiple industries, tapping into our talented, entrepreneurial and fast-growing Latino communities is crucial to addressing issues like childcare and upskilling pathways to higher opportunity jobs,” said Juan Fernando Lopera, co-chair of the Latino Equity Fund. “The data in this report challenges us to do better. It is up to all of us to seize the opportunity to do so.”

Unique origins, unique trends for Mass. Latinos

The first notable difference in Massachusetts’ Latino population is where it has come from. While over 60 percent of Latinos in the United States have Mexican roots, in Massachusetts fewer than one in 10 Latinos are Mexican (just 6 percent). By contrast, the largest Latino subgroups in Massachusetts are of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent—at 40 percent and 19 percent, respectively. The state is also home to a sizable Central American immigrant population – Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans, in particular, who together comprise 17 percent of the Massachusetts Latino population and higher percentages in cities like Chelsea, Lynn and Everett.

The state’s Latino population also differs from those in other parts of the country in that they are more concentrated in a number of smaller postindustrial communities outside Boston, often referred to as the “Gateway Cities.” While these cities have offered opportunities for cultural connections, they by and large have been less able to capitalize on the state’s two technology booms in the 1980s and 2010s, limiting Latinos’ upward mobility.

In all, the report cites six trends that define ¿Cómo llegamos aquí? (How we got here)trends that the data suggest play a significant role in the current situation for Massachusetts Latinos and that could provide pathways for the future. They include:

  1. Puerto Ricans and Dominicans remain concentrated outside Boston’s urban core in cities with fewer opportunities for upward mobility.
  2. Educational attainment is a central challenge for Latinos in Massachusetts.
  3. Our largest Latino subgroups are less likely to be in the workforce, and of those who are working, many are stuck in lower-wage service jobs.
  4. Latinos of Central American origins, who often face tougher immigration pathways, tend to have lower levels of socioeconomic well-being.
  5. The state’s high housing costs strain financial resources for Latinos and limit homeownership, a potential source of economic security and mobility.
  6. The pandemic has disproportionately hurt Latinos over the past two years.

These areas are often interrelated. For example, the relatively low test scores, high school graduation rates and college completion rates among Latinos then funnel them toward lower-wage, service-oriented jobs that were among those most likely to be eliminated by the economic disruption of the pandemic.

Low wages in a high-cost housing market also suppress opportunity, with Latinos most likely to be housing cost-burdened and least likely to own their own home of the state’s major racial and ethnic groups. This limits intergenerational transfers of wealth through homeownership, one of the key drivers of economic mobility.

“Addressing the issues presented in this report will not be easy, but it is something we can and must do for nearly a million Massachusetts Latinos today and for future generations,” said Aixa Beauchamp, co-chair of the Latino Equity Fund advisory board. “By implementing policies that strengthen education, improve economic opportunity and enhance the health of families, businesses and neighborhoods, we can a create a cycle of improvements that can build upon itself to create a brighter future.”

In the final section, Oportunidades para avanzar (Opportunities for progress), the report briefly lays out some of these possible paths, in areas like job training, economic and income supports for businesses and families, affordable housing programs, increased access to early education and care to allow caregivers greater ability to work, and support for entrepreneurs and others that targets areas of opportunity in the Gateway Cities.