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Co-written by Diego Hernandez


There is much discussion about the need to rebuild the American middle class. In order to do this effectively, the nation must address the racial wealth divide and how it affects large groups like African Americans, Native Americans and Latinos. With a total of 58.8 million (foreign-born: 36%; native-born: 62%), the Latino community ranks at 18.1% of the U.S. national population and is growing. There can be no building of a 21st century American middle class without strong asset development focused in the Latino community. 

Almost one out of every five Americans is Latino. Yet the demographic representation of Latinos is concentrated in the West and Southwest, with 26% of Latinos residing in California and another 19% in Texas. The Latino population of the United States has high employment and labor force participation rates relative to other groups. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Latinos have the highest labor participation rate of the major demographic populations in the United States at 66.1%; however, their educational attainment is significantly lower compared to other major racial groups in the United States.

Latino’s have the lowest attainment of bachelor’s degrees or higher. According to 2017 data from the American Community Survey (ACS), only about 16% of Latinos had a bachelor's or higher. In contrast, 35.8% of whites, 21.4% of African Americans and 53.8% of Asian Americans had a bachelor’s degree or higher. Foreign-born Latinos had a higher proportion of adults with less than a high school education at 28% compared to native-born Latinos at 8%. Interestingly, foreign-born Latinos were just as likely as the native population to hold an advanced degree: 13% versus 12%.

As mentioned before, the United States’ Latino population is growing, though their socioeconomic status is not growing along with their proportion of the American population. Latino households’ median income stands at 18% less ($49,793) than the national median ($60,336) and about 24% less than white households ($65,845). Another aspect of troubling financial security for Latinos is that 71% of Latino households are in liquid asset poverty, compared to 67% of Black households and 35% of white households. More than half of Latino households would not survive an unexpected financial burden, and in most cases, Latinos are one monetary crisis away from financial disaster. And when evaluating the pay and wealth gap in-context of gender, the disparity is unsettling. Latino men earn roughly 69 cents to every white non-Hispanic male’s dollar. Latina women, who have an average income of $31,109, earn about 58 cents for every dollar. In terms of wealth, single Latinas, between the ages of 18 to 64, have a median wealth of only $100, about a tenth of that of Latino men and not even half of 1% of the wealth of white men.

Over the last few years, the issues connected to the Latino community has been a lightning rod used to divide the American public for the sake of electoral politics. We have created a Latino Racial Wealth Divide Snapshot because we believe that looking at the socioeconomic challenges of this community tells us a lot about what needs to be done to strengthen the American economy. Hopefully, this National Hispanic Heritage Month can be a time where the nation embraces that the challenges Latino Americans face are challenges of the country as a whole.


Dedrick Asante-Muhammad is NCRC’s Chief of Race, Wealth and Community. 

Diego Hernandez is an intern with NCRC’s Race, Wealth and Community team.