What did Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney mean by “self-deportation?” A new Pew Research poll looks at Latinos and the Great Recession. (More)

Listening to Latinos, Part I: Jobs, Homes, Futures

This week Morning Feature explores issues that concern our Latino communities. Today we look at how the Great Recession has disproportionately hurt Latinos. Tomorrow we’ll consider whether Latinos receive equal protection under the law. Saturday we’ll conclude with religion, culture, and social issues.

“They’re going to self-deport.”

It was another of Mitt Romney’s curiously revealing comments, like “I like being able to fire people” and “I’m not concerned with the very poor.” In last week’s Republican presidential candidates debate in Tampa, Romney said “If people don’t get work here, they’re going to self-deport to a place where they can get work.”

Rick Santorum quickly agreed, saying “It’s happening now. People are going back now”

Santorum was correct. A 2010 Pew Research report showed undocumented immigration in decline since 2005 and that trend continued through 2011, at least at the Mexican border. The San Diego Union-Tribune‘s Elizabeth Aguilera reported last July:

The Great Recession, border enforcement and social and economic changes in Mexico have resulted in a negative net flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico for the first time in at least the past decade, demographers said.

Fewer unauthorized Mexicans entered the U.S. last year than those who left, building on a trend that started four years ago, according to several University of California researchers, the Pew Hispanic Center and others.

Perhaps Romney and other Republicans would cheer data from a new Pew Research poll confirming that the Great Recession has hit Latinos harder than other groups.

Jobs and Homes

The Great Recession has hurt everyone. A Pew Research study last July found that the median white family in America lost one-sixth of their net wealth from 2005-2009. But the same study found that the median Latino family lost two-thirds of their net wealth over that period. From 2006 to 2010, the poverty rate among Latinos rose from 20.6% to 26.6%. As of December, unemployment among Latinos stood at 11% – three points higher than the national average – and almost six-in-ten Latinos lived in households with someone unemployed and looking for work.

The consequences are tangible and stark. Almost half of Latinos say they delayed or canceled plans to buy a car or similar major purchase, and 45% put off buying a home or making improvements on a home they own. Almost four-in-ten have cut the size of meals or skipped meals because they could not afford food, and an equal number had trouble getting or paying for health care.

Among immigrants, the story is even harsher. While one-third of native-born Latinos reported reducing or skipping meals, 43% of immigrant Latinos did so, and 84% of immigrant Latinos describe their family financial situation as “only fair” or “poor.” Among those who are not legal residents, half said they had cut back on or skipped meals.

Because more Latinos bought homes more recently, and in areas where the housing bubble was greatest, Latinos are twice as likely to be underwater on their mortgages. On mortgates sold between 2004-2008, the foreclosure rate for Latinos was more than double that for whites. And yet:

Despite being hit hard by the housing market downturn, three-in-four (75%) Latinos agree that buying a home is the best long-term investment a person can make in the U.S. This compares with 81% of the general population who say the same.

A brighter future?

In fact, the January Pew Research study found Latinos were more optimistic about their futures than Americans overall. Two-thirds of Latinos said their lives were better than their parents’ lives, as compared to 61% of the general population. But while only 48% of Americans overall think their children’s lives will be better, 66% of Latinos think so. The “American dream” shines brightest among immigrant Latinos, 72% of whom think their children will have better lives.

That optimism – from the same group of whom half reported reducing or skipping meals because they could not afford food – suggests Romney’s dream of “self-deportation” is possible only if the economy remains mired in recession …

… or if he and other Republicans can continue and extend immiseration policies that target Latinos.

We’ll discuss those policies tomorrow.

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Happy Thursday!