U.S. Latino Children Fare Poorly on Many Social Indicators

(November 2009) Latinos make up a growing share of young Americans: Nationally their share reached 22 percent in 2008, but it already approaches or exceeds 50 percent in several states, including Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas. Latinos will make up a majority of the school-age population in a number of states in coming years.

Of the 16 million Latino children currently living in the United States, nine out of 10 are U.S.-born citizens. Clearly, Latino children and youth—our future workers, voters, taxpayers, and consumers—are poised to become a critical part of the United States’ economic, social, and political well-being.

How are these young Americans doing? Are they very different from young non-Hispanic whites and blacks? A new publication, prepared in partnership between PRB and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), presents a snapshot of Latinos under age 18 to highlight areas of concern to policymakers. The publication was released at a NCLR symposium in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 22, “Investing in Our Future: The State of Latino Children and Youth.”

Rapid Increase in Numbers

Figure 1

Distribution of Children by Race/Ethnicity, 1990 and 2008

*Non-Hispanic; 2008 estimates for whites, blacks, and others are for those who identify with only one race.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau and National Center for Health

Figure 2

Latino Children by Nativity of Parents

Source: U.S. Census Bureau 2007 American Community Survey.

The increase in the number of Latinos in recent decades is remarkable. The number of Latinos under age 18 doubled—from 8 million in 1990 to 16 million in 2008—and moved ahead of the black child population for the first time. The number of non-Hispanic white children actually slipped over the same period—from 44 million to 42 million. Consequently, Latinos make up a growing share of the population under age 18, from 12 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2008 (see Figure 1). They are now the second largest racial and ethnic group after non-Hispanic whites. Latino children are projected to account for nearly one-third of children nationwide by 2030.

Many Latino children benefit from a strong family environment, but face economic and social problems related to poverty, living in poor neighborhoods, and their parents’ immigrant status.

Most Latino youth (63 percent) live in two-parent households. In contrast, about 77 percent of whites and 35 percent of black children lived in a two-parent household in 2007. Having two parents at home can serve as a protective factor for children, especially among Latinos, who place particular importance on families. In all ethnic groups, children living with two parents are less likely to be poor and more likely to graduate from high school. And, they share other advantages over children raised in single-parent homes.

Immigrant Status for Many Latino Parents

While many Latino families have lived in the United States for generations, recent immigration waves mean that a large proportion of Latino families include immigrants (see Figure 2). In 2007, about three out of five Latino children lived in a family in which at least one parent was foreign-born—much higher than the proportion among whites or blacks. Living in an immigrant family can pose challenges. Immigrant parents may not be as adept at securing health and education benefits for their children, especially if they have limited English skills. And, they are excluded from some government programs altogether because of their immigrant status.

Poverty a Reality for 28 Percent of Latino Children

Latino children face economic hardships that can adversely affect their development and well-being, and create barriers to becoming productive adults and parents. In 2007, more than one-quarter (28 percent) of Latino children were poor, more than double the rate for white children (11 percent), but below the rate for black children (34 percent). The recent economic downturn and mortgage crisis has hit many Latino families especially hard. A recent study by NCLR found that Latino families went to dramatic lengths to save their homes from foreclosure, leaving them financially depleted and vulnerable.

Latino children often live in high-poverty neighborhoods, socially and economically isolated from middle-class Americans, which can affect their access to well-paying jobs later on. Many are linguistically isolated as well because their parents have limited English skills. About 18 percent of Hispanic children have difficulty speaking English, but nearly one-fourth live in linguistically isolated households.

Slower Educational Gains

Getting a good education is often a path out of poverty, but Latino children are underrepresented in early childhood education programs that could teach social and language skills to help them succeed in school. Latino children are much less likely than non-Hispanic white and black preschoolers to be enrolled in preschool. More worrisome, Latino teenagers are more likely to leave school before getting their high school diploma. In 2006, 50 percent of Latino males and 41 percent of Latino females did not graduate from high school on time with a regular diploma. The dropout rates were slightly higher among black teenagers, but both blacks and Latinos contrasted sharply with non-Hispanic whites. The vast majority of white students finish high school on time.

Challenges to Staying Healthy

Latino children also face greater health challenges than other children. In 2007, 19 percent of Latino children lacked health insurance, compared with 9 percent of blacks and just 6 percent of non-Hispanic white children. Among Latino children who had health insurance, more than one-half relied on public programs such as Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that serve low-income working families.

Latino children have high rates of obesity and overweight, which put them at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, hypertension, and several other health problems. In 2007, 41 percent of Latino and black children were overweight or obese, compared with 27 percent of white children.

Latino children face many challenges along their way to adulthood. The way these challenges are met will determine their success as parents and productive citizens. Attending to the needs of Latino children and youth will not only lead to improved opportunities in Latino communities, but will contribute to the success of the next generation.

This article was based on The State of Latino Children and Youth in the United States (2009), prepared under a partnership between the Population Reference Bureau and the National Council of La Raza. Additional information on Latino youth presented at the Oct. 22, 2009, symposium can be found at

Mark Mather is associate vice president for Domestic Programs at the Population Reference Bureau (PRB). Mary Mederios Kent is senior demographic editor at PRB.