Oct 16, 2023 - News

Massachusetts' Latino poverty rate is double the average

Poverty thresholds vary based on family size and composition. Data: Census Bureau; Chart: Alice Feng/Axios

Massachusetts has relatively low poverty rates compared to other states — except when it comes to Latinos.

Driving the news: The state's Latino poverty rate has declined over the past two decades, from 29.9% in 2005 to 19.9% in 2022, but it remains twice as high as the state's overall rate, according to new census data.

Why it matters: Latinos are one of the fastest-growing groups in Massachusetts and are set to be a plurality of the country's population by 2050.

  • Failure to address systemic inequalities may act as a drag on the nation's future prosperity, some experts say.

Flashback: This isn't a new problem for Massachusetts. In 1980, the Bay State's Latino poverty rate was 37.6%, the highest of any U.S. state at the time, per a 2022 report by Boston Indicators and the UMass Gastón Institute.

Zoom in: In Suffolk County, the Latino poverty rate is 21.7%, nearly twice the white poverty rate of 12.3%.

  • Suffolk is home to Latino communities in Revere and Chelsea, as well as Boston's Jamaica Plain and East Boston neighborhoods.
  • In Eastie, hundreds of residents line up every week at the East Boston Community Soup Kitchen for free fruit, vegetables and cereal — just a couple of miles away from Beacon Hill, one of the wealthiest and most exclusive neighborhoods in the country.

Yes, but: Food pantries and other organizations have also seen high demand during and even after the pandemic in Chelsea, Lawrence, Springfield and other Massachusetts cities with large Latino populations.

Between the lines: Latino residents in Massachusetts face barriers to economic mobility, whether it's because they're stuck in low-wage jobs or can't afford to pursue higher education in one of the costliest states for college, per the Boston Indicators report.

  • Puerto Ricans and Dominicans make up two-thirds of the state's Latino population.
  • Many fled political and economic instability only to struggle with systematic barriers and a shrinking middle-income job market in states like Massachusetts.

Plus: Latinos who don't have citizenship or who live in mixed-status families face additional barriers to stable, high-paying employment, the report's authors write.

What's we're watching: State lawmakers filed a bill this year to restore state food benefits and cash assistance to low-income immigrant families.

  • The state funded these benefits from 1997 to 2002.
  • The bill would open up food benefits to some 15,000 people, per Patricia Baker, senior benefits policy advocate at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.
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