News Column

Portrait of the Hispanic Middle Class

December 2001

Middle-class Hispanic households have several distinct characteristics. Seven out of 10 of such households are composed of primary families, with both husband and wife present. Moreover, they include fewer children and more adults than low-income households.

Indeed, one of the chief reasons some of those households have ascended to the middle class is that teenaged and adult members pool their incomes. Middle-income Hispanic households have an average of 2.26 wage earners per household, one more than low-income households. More than eight out of 10 middle-class Hispanic households have two or more wage earners, and three out of 10 have three or more contributing to household income.

Members of the Hispanic middle class are quite diverse in their occupational backgrounds. About half are estimated to be blue-collar workers, one-fourth are white-collar mid-level professionals, and another quarter are administrators and professionals. Only 6 percent of Hispanic middle-class heads of households are self-employed.

Hispanics are increasingly moving toward professional and managerial jobs and away from work as laborers and service workers, a trend reflected in employment benefits data. Almost half of middle-class Hispanic household heads are included in their employer's pension plan, for instance. And in almost nine of 10 middle-class Hispanic households, someone is covered by a health insurance plan.

"Even though Hispanics, proportionally, are still employed in more service-type jobs, there has been improvement and movement into professional jobs," says Roberto R. Ramirez, a survey statistician with the U.S. Census Bureau's ethnic and Hispanic statistics branch.

Most significantly, more than six in 10 Hispanic middle-class heads of households own or are buying their homes twice the proportion of those with lower incomes.

Not surprisingly, the state with the largest middle-income Hispanic population is California, followed by Texas and Florida. New Jersey has the highest proportion of middle-class residents among its Hispanic population (44 percent).

This type of concentration benefits the cause of Hispanic affluence, says UT Austin's Mr. Trejo.

"If we look at the overall numbers of Mexicans with a college degree or professional degree, they may not be huge, but if you look within California and Texas, there are sizable numbers, so that people can form useful networks and advocacy groups for professionals," he says. The situation is similar for Cubans in Florida and Puerto Ricans in the Northeast, he says. "In that sense, the geographic concentration of Hispanics is helpful. You've got large number of upper- and middle-class people in the same area who can help themselves and each other."

Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine

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