Column: Reading the recession's tollSAN DIEGO — So, to all white Americans, raise your hand if you still want to be Latino. You remember, or as my friend, the comedian George Lopez says, “you ‘member.”
By: Ruben Navarrette, Worthington Daily Globe
SAN DIEGO — So, to all white Americans, raise your hand if you still want to be Latino.
You remember, or as my friend, the comedian George Lopez says, “you ‘member.” Just a few years ago, there were stories in the media about how it was suddenly “hip to be Hispanic” and how America’s largest minority would define this century. Latino culture had seeped into the mainstream.
I got emails from readers complaining that their sons and daughters couldn’t get summer jobs because employers wanted them to speak Spanish. Others were put off by the fact that the political parties were courting the Latino vote and Fortune 500 companies were pursuing the Latino market. Then there were those who insisted that they might have been accepted into an Ivy League school and earned a six-figure income if they had been Latino and eligible for affirmative action.
How things can change due to a little thing like the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
The numbers are in, and they confirm what many in the Latino community suspected: Hispanic families were among the big losers in this recession, accounting for the steepest decline in wealth of any ethnic or racial group in the country.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, which used data from the Census Bureau, the median wealth of Hispanic households fell by 66 percent from 2005 to 2009.
How do you like us now? Still think the grass is greener in the Hispanic part of town?
Household wealth is composed of assets (a house, a car, savings and stocks, etc.) minus debts (mortgages, car loans, student loans, credit cards, etc.).
Other minorities didn’t fare well in the recession either. African-Americans saw their wealth drop by 53 percent; for Asian-Americans, the figure was 54 percent.
These wealth declines in minority households were the largest in the 25 years that the Census Bureau has been collecting this data, the report noted.
Over the same period, the median wealth of white households fell by just 16 percent. As a result, the study found, the median net worth of whites is now 18 times that of Hispanic households and 20 times that of African-American households. Those disparities are double what they were in previous decades.
The unanswered question is what caused this economic tsunami, which did more damage to Hispanics than did Arizona’s immigration law, Lou Dobbs, the high school dropout rate, the Republican Party, the scuttling of the DREAM Act, border vigilantes, and President Obama’s 1 million deportations all put together.
Some point out that Hispanic immigrants, both legal and illegal, were hit hard by the bursting of the housing bubble, when many lost their homes. Others note that the recession took a heavy toll on the industries that employ many of these immigrants — construction, restaurants, hotels, agriculture, etc.
All true. But I submit that some of this can be traced to a backlash against changing demographics. The U.S. population is undergoing a radical transformation. Latinos represent about 16 percent of the population. In 10 years, that figure will likely be 20 percent. In 20 years, it’ll probably be 25 percent.
Think of it: By 2030, a quarter of the entire U.S. population will be Latino. And soon thereafter, according to Census Bureau estimates, whites will be a statistical minority in this country.
The fact that the United States is slowly but steadily becoming a Hispanic nation is no secret. What do you think drives most of the immigration debate and the frantic efforts by cities and states to run off illegal immigrants and by the Obama administration to remove them? It’s fear of change.
Up and down the economic ladder, whether it is in low-skilled jobs or white-collar professions, many white Americans are afraid of being pushed aside. Polls show that whites are now more likely than African-Americans or Latinos to see themselves as victims of racism. So it’s no surprise that many of them are holding on to what they’ve got with both hands.
Do you remember how, in the 1980s and ’90s, companies would brag about a commitment to “diversity” and “expanding opportunity” for groups previously excluded? Well, in many places, that kind of thinking is dead.
That’s human nature, but it’s still not very smart. With population figures being what they are, the decline in wealth of minority households all but guarantees that the entire country will face even greater economic difficulty in the years ahead.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.