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The Economic Status of the Hispanic Population: Selected Essays

reviewed by Gabrielle Oliveira - February 14, 2014

coverTitle: The Economic Status of the Hispanic Population: Selected Essays
Author(s): Marie T. Mora & Alberto Davila
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623961866, Pages: 172, Year: 2013
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This is an edited volume that brings together 10 chapters by 13 researchers on the status of the Hispanic population in the United States. Recognizing the rising importance of this demographic group—Hispanics drove more than half of the entire U.S. population growth in the last decade—the editors compiled selected essays that provide invaluable resources for anyone studying the socio-economic trajectories of Hispanics in the United States. The book offers itself as an example of a “reader-friendly” type orientation for an intended audience that is much broader than one comprised of quantitatively oriented academics. It is organized into a sequence of chapters on three general themes: education-related issues; poverty and inequality and health-related behaviors and outcomes. The opening and closing chapters, written by the book’s editors, present both an overview on the state of Hispanics in the U.S. and the lessons learned from all the research presented in the book.

Authors in Chapters One through Three present rich data on human capital characteristics of Hispanics in the country. The familiar data on Hispanics lagging behind their counterparts in education achievement is complicated by an interesting paradox presented by author Mark López in Chapter Two: despite low education levels, Hispanics seem to place a high value on education. Chapter Three presents yet a different facet of the much known debate on the education gap between ethnicities in America: the English-language literacy gap. As the title of the chapter suggests, Arturo Gonzalez illustrates the evolution of Hispanic literacy in the twenty-first century where succeeding generations of Hispanics have been reducing the gap between them and the non-Hispanic Whites through increased assimilation.

The next few chapters discuss issues of Hispanic poverty. In Mary Lopez’ Chapter Four the author analyzes poverty rates and the factors associated with poverty between Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites and among various Hispanic subgroups. One of her main contributions is to shed light on differences across race, ethnicity, nativity, gender and Hispanic-origin subgroups. For instance, “Mexican-American men and Dominican women were more likely to be impoverished than other Hispanic groups” (p. 61). She shows how demographic characteristics as well as socioeconomic ones show variance between the Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites. Differences in human capital are evident between the groups as well as differences in decisions regarding family formation. Chapter Five brings a theoretical discussion that contributes to the overall understanding of the economic status of this population. How do structure and agency influence Latino poverty? The authors assess if discrimination and prejudice have long-lasting effects in the existent inequality between non-Hispanic Whites and Latinos (Becker’s discrimination theory). Finally authors in Chapter Six bring in a much needed dimension of Hispanics in the United States: the population that lives in rural areas. Latino spatial concentrations can have negative effects on local communities as it increases under-employment, poverty and public assistance use. There is also an increase in tensions between Latinos and non-Hispanic Whites. As the authors explain, “places undergoing this rapid turnover have had to confront sudden demands for housing, education, health care, social services, and crime prevention” (p. 91). School enrollments and the search for bilingual teachers also become a crisis in the education systems of these areas.

Finally, Chapters Seven through Nine convey what I believe to be the main contribution of the book: the incorporation of health and health-related behavior to better-known topics like education and poverty discussions. The obesity discussion presented in Chapter Eight not only identifies one of the root causes of Hispanic health issues, but it also examines how health habits relate to increased education. The authors find that even after controlling for differences in education and other observable features the ethnic group still has a relatively high obesity propensity. In Chapter Nine author A.J. Vargas analyzes the patterns of time use of Hispanic immigrants and studies how these patterns, which include market work, household production, personal care and leisure, change as they assimilate to the U.S. labor market. Assessing the differences within gender roles—what husbands and wives actually do—allows the reader to understand behavior from an individual perspective.

A remarkable feature of the book is the wide foundation of materials and other sources that are the basis of the authors' examinations and conclusions: a feature that can be seen in the wealth of tables and wide use and analysis of national surveys. Surveys, literatures and other materials from almost all relevant topics for the Hispanic population are used and this alone will make the work an indispensable source for references.

After reading each chapter the reader, however, has to do most of the critical analysis on his/her own. Even though the editors stress the goal of avoiding the use of jargon to go about the extensive quantitative data they present, it is almost inevitable to read many paragraphs in a row that present only numbers on the population. In addition two other points deserve attention in the book. First, the authors use Latinos/Hispanics as interchangeable terms. This is problematic for a number of reasons, but more specifically because there is a population from Latin America in the United States who are not from Spanish-speaking countries (Hispanic), but that identify as Latinos nonetheless. Second, some of the chapters discuss the difference within generations (1st, 2nd and 3rd), foreign-born versus native-born and legal status. In order to fully grapple with the reality of Hispanics and/or Latinos in the United States, legality and generational status are important categories to be incorporated into the analysis. Mixed-status families and transnational families are a growing phenomena for many nationalities within the larger Hispanic group, thus giving the reader a glimpse of how these realities vary is a helpful way to show the incredible diversity within the ethnicity. The book works best when used as a starting reference and sources for a broader audience of students, policy makers, advocacy groups and academics.

Each chapter in the book is a self-contained study that offers original and detailed insights into the population being investigated. However, beyond their technical contributions to the field, to varying degrees each study takes pains to present the work in such a manner as to address how the ethnic group compares to non-Hispanic groups in the country. This is a particularly useful feature and elevates the book to become an invaluable tool for any researcher interested in understanding how Hispanics have fared relative to other Americans. It is an extremely well-edited and well-balanced book with high quality contributions from the various authors.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 14, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17432, Date Accessed: 10/24/2021 1:44:45 PM

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About the Author
  • Gabrielle Oliveira
    Teachers College
    E-mail Author
    GABRIELLE OLIVEIRA is a Ph.D candidate in applied anthropology at Teachers College. Her dissertation looks at Mexican migration to the United States the impacts on children and youth in both sides of the border. She has recently published a chapter in an edited volume entitled Refugees, Immigrants, and Education in the Global South Lives in Motion. Gabrielle has written short pieces for The Globalist as well as AnthroNews. She has a masters in international affairs from Columbia University and is originally from S„o Paulo, Brazil.
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