Archive for Money & Affluence

Why do most Hispanics stay poor?

At our LinkedIn group discussion a member expressed his disagreement with my ealier post Latinos Are Too Focused on Material Success stating that “the numbers do not show it.”  That is true.  Interestingly, I just came across an article I wrote for Quirks Magazine, which was published in April, 1998.  Eleven years later some of what I wrote there still applies.  Here is a segment of the article pertaining to why Hispanics stay poor.  For the whole article please go here.


The U.S. is the land of opportunity. Over the years, immigrants from all over the world have come to this country and managed to work hard to improve their economic situation. What is different about the Hispanic immigrants? To answer that question, you have to take into account the fact that the times have changed. Today ’s immigrants do not arrive here by breaking all ties with their homelands. While just a century ago people would take a long boat trip across the Atlantic to get to this country, today’s immigrants can move here overnight and go back to visit the following week. They never have to lose touch. From the airlines to the telephone to the television and even the Internet, new immigrants can keep in touch with their homeland.

Even in this country, the Hispanic community keeps in touch by creating its own home away from home. Hispanics have Spanish television, can read most product labels in Spanish, can easily purchase their favorite ethnic food at the local supermarket or bodega, and can socialize with others who speak their language and share their culture. This is indeed very different from the old melting pot culture where immigrants forced their children to forget their mother tongue and become part of the new culture. Hispanics place a high value on being able to maintain their customs, language, and culture. The U.S. freedom allows it, and it is indeed attractive. Yet, I argue that not “melting into the pot” creates a difficult situation that leads to lower income.

By insisting on being “different,” Latinos are promoting discrimination. When Puerto Ricans wear their flag on everything from their cars to their T-shirts, they are making a statement that says, “I am proud of my heritage,” but it is often read as “I am not part of this country.” That leads to a common reaction: “Well, get the heck out!” which is also known as discrimination. Discrimination often leads to a lower income. This is especially true of Hispanic communities that consist of individuals with minimal education and labor skills. These communities depend on the jobs provided by members of an outside community. The number of Hispanic businesses that provide job opportunities to their own community is extremely low, compared to other ethnic groups like Asian Americans. There are exceptions. One, of course, is the Cuban community in Miami, whose Hispanic-owned businesses hire four times as many people than Hispanic- owned businesses in New York City.

Besides discrimination, there are other factors that affect income. To keep their culture, Hispanics often move near other Hispanics in typical Latino neighborhoods. Some of these neighborhoods have deteriorated — victims of crime and drug problems. To complicate matters, public education systems in many Latino neighborhoods are overcrowded and underfinanced. As a result, Hispanic young people are not receiving an equal education. Since English is not the language of choice in most Hispanic neighborhoods, and the schools are not adequate, many Latinos are not proficient enough in English to obtain decent employment. What is worse, because Spanish is not taught in school, many Hispanic Americans grow up not knowing how to read and write in Spanish.

Despite my contention that Latinos would be better off financially if they tried to blend into the American culture, I don ’ t agree with that approach. Looking at the situation from an economic standpoint you must give value to the desire of Hispanics to keep their customs, language and culture. I argue that this value is so high that it justifies whatever negative effects may occur — discrimination, lower income, or even bad neighborhoods. Since the Hispanic population continues to grow at a higher rate than any other minority group, these problems will eventually disappear. Even today, Spanish culture is quickly becoming ingrained into the American culture. Tacos are now as popular as hot dogs and hamburgers in the typical American diet, and Spanish words are becoming part of the American language — ¿Comprende?

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Latinos are too focused on material success

Over the past 25 years I have spoken to thousands of Latinos. As a professional interviewer specializing in the U.S. Hispanic market, my job is to ask questions and to listen carefully. I have heard Latinos speak of their dreams and aspirations. Some have related stories of how they grew up in this country; often struggling to fit in. Others have spoken of what motivated their migration from Latin America; and of the difficulties, frustrations, and obstacles encountered in their quest to achieve that elusive “American Dream.” The majority does not feel accomplished. Why? The sad reality is that most Latinos, and especially new Latino immigrants, are bound to have a hard time achieving their dreams because they are often too focused on achieving financial success.

Hispanic immigrants work very hard to succeed in their pecuniary dream quest. To “make it here” is very important to U.S. Latinos. Many came to the U.S. leaving behind their family, their friends, their land, and their culture. Coming here was a sacrifice. They endured that sacrifice in order to financially live a better life and, most importantly, to provide a better life for their children. In fact, most often when Latino parents are asked about their personal goals and ambitions they answer by saying that everything they do is for the purpose of providing a better life for their children. This tendency of self-sacrifice is especially prevalent in the Hispanic female.

While Hispanics work very hard to achieve their American dream, many find it very difficult on their families. In many cases, it is the Latino male who arrives in the U.S. first. Their original thinking is to make enough money to return to their families. As time goes on, many men find it more feasible to bring their family to the U.S., while they continue their pursuit for financial independence. Even at this stage, many new immigrants continue with their plan of making enough money to return to their homeland. The reality, however, is that most immigrants end up staying. Once they live in this country for a few years, they start to release those bonds with their country of origin by strengthening ties with a new homeland. These new ties become stronger when new immigrants have children born in the U.S. The parents decide to stay for the sake of their children.

Latinos try to succeed by working very hard. The men often have two jobs and find it difficult to spend quality time with their families. They often leave most of the child rearing responsibilities to their wives. While the traditional Hispanic mother always stayed at home and contentedly bore most of these responsibilities, the new Latina immigrant finds herself with very little time to raise her children. Latinas often complain that life in the U.S. is too fast and stressful, and that they lack the large support network of family and friends that exists in their homeland. They also see themselves forced to work out of the house, or motivated by the American culture to pursue a career of their own. In trying to do it all, their children end up suffering. The parents cannot do it all and supervise the children appropriately.

The lack of parental supervision is a growing concern in the Hispanic community. There are many two-income and single parent households. These families often have difficulty supervising their children after school. Additionally, tired parent who are franticly fixing dinner at night and preparing for the next day may not be taking enough time out to inquire about their children’s activities and/or school issues. These Latino families lack the support offered by extended family members in their country of origin. Back “home” there was always a relative willing to assume the parental responsibilities if needed.

To make things worse, many new Latino immigrants relocate to urban neighborhoods in big cities where crime, drugs, and other negative societal influences abound. In their country of origin Latinos often lived in smaller towns where everyone knew everybody else. Their children were protected there because everyone kept an eye on them. If your child got in trouble, the story would get to you through the Latino grapevine. I have heard many Hispanics tell me that they were devastated when they found out that their child was into drugs or involved in gang activities because they “had no idea.” Many blame the American society for their children’s problems and do not see themselves being at all responsible.

The problem is that it is not in the true Latino nature to place all of their life emphasis on financial success. In fact, when I ask Hispanics about the most important things in life, they are likely to mention God, family, and health. It is rare when a Latino says that money is the most important thing in life. What is ironic is that most Latinos seek financial success to be able to provide a better life for their children; and in doing so they end up placing their children in danger. At the end, most Latinos agree that success is not measured by material possessions; many prefer to measure success by the legacy they leave to their children. A legacy that is not necessarily a financial inheritance; but rather an appropriate upbringing based on respect, good morals, and proper values.

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