LATINO VOICES
01/18/2014 11:19 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

5 Key Economic Issues For Latinos In 2014

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Congress has come back to Washington to act upon several legislations affecting the livelihood of U.S. Latinos.

From immigration reform to the reduction of SNAP benefits and other government programs, and from an increase of minimum wages to access to affordable healthcare and housing, Latinos are at the center of many hot debates in the political arena.

1. Immigration reform

New estimates by the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project show that the number of undocumented immigrants living in the US has not declined significantly between 2009 and 2012; however, it has not grown particularly either –after a peak in 2007.

According to economic impact studies gathered by The Urban Institute, comprehensive immigration reform will increase the national gross domestic product (GDP) and have a strong fiscal impact–such as paying more taxes and adding economic activity.

GDP growth is estimated between 0.3 and 0.8 percent yearly –$83 to $150 billion– and economic contribution is estimated between $10,000 and $17,000 per year and per worker.

Each immigrant worker reaching documented status will gain in wages and economic outcome. Wages will increase for legalized workers –estimated between 12 and 15 percent – while they will not affect or have a small negative effect in current U.S. workers’ wages.

2. Reduction of SNAP and other benefits

One in seven Americans or more than 47 million people living under or close to the line of poverty relies on food stamps and other benefits in the U.S. Hispanics are the third largest group to receive those benefits (22 percent), while 47 percent of recipients are children under 18 and eight percent are seniors, according to the USDA.

Several studies by Feeding America show that only 39 percent of young Hispanic children families received SNAP benefits compared to families of black (65 percent) and white (74 percent) children (2010 data).

A large number of eligible Hispanic families (59 percent) have not applied for SNAP. They often reported concerns over citizenship –many of these families have at least one undocumented member.

They do not realize that immigrant children as well as U.S.-born children are eligible for the program despite their parents’ immigration status. Many of these families depend on private charitable organizations such as pantries and kitchens.

3. Affordable Care Act (ACA) registration

Latinos are at the forefront of the ACA success expectations, especially in those states where they are a close minority majority such as California, Texas and Florida. Not only are they one of the largest uninsured groups in the country, but also the youngest –a median age of 27.6 years old compared to 42.3 of Whites.

The ACA extended affordable coverage to immigrants with legal resident status through their employer or the federal insurance exchange; legislation also made them eligible for tax federal subsidies based on income.

Undocumented immigrants, on the other hand, are not eligible for federal or state coverage. They remain eligible, though, for emergency care under federal law, which poses a great strain on the insured.

Even if immigration reform passes this year, the hurdle resides within the new proposed bill HR 15 that prevents undocumented immigrants to access healthcare until they receive their green cards –possibly a decade away.

According to the American Society for Public Administration, however, it would be beneficial to provide insurance coverage to at least those candidates for temporary/guest-worker programs:

“…providing coverage options to this group will increase the probability that they get appropriate levels of care when needed, thereby lowering sick-day costs otherwise borne by employers. This in turn would benefit employers from a worker productivity perspective. As well, some have argued that including this relatively healthy population… in the insurance exchange subscriber pool might lower average premiums for everyone else.”

4. Housing market

The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP) estimates that a path to legalization for 11 million undocumented immigrants could generate an economic boost of 3 million homeowners, $500 billion in sales, $233 billion in origination fees, and $28 billion in income within the real estate community.

In addition to income and direct related spending, home purchases could also generate $180 billion in indirect consumer spending –based on the average $60,000 in associated purchases estimated by the National Association of Realtors in 2012.

Homeownership also creates intangible benefits such as more stable communities and neighborhoods, better care of personal and real estate property, and increased property value.

5. Minimum wage

One in five Latinos work in low-paying jobs that earn a minimum wage, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For instance, the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) reports that farm workers laboring 42 hours per week earn $7.25 per hour on average.

However, the National Farm Worker Ministry sustains that the “average” might vary from $6.76 per hour or less. Moreover, the Pew Research Center estimates that nearly two million people earned less than $7.25 an hour in 2012.

Exempted from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) are tipped workers, many domestic workers, workers on small farms, some seasonal workers, full-time students, and certain disabled workers representing 2.8 percent of the nation’s workers. Despite their immigration status, Latinos are over-represented in most of these activities.

In all, the awaited comprehensive immigration reform, although providing clear benefits for undocumented workers as well as the economy in general, will not have an immediate impact as different versions of the bill and its implementation are still being debated.

This article originally appeared on VOXXI under the title "Five economic issues could benefit US Latinos and the economy in 2014."

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