America has always been a nation that prides itself on rising above adversity and beating the odds. But this Labor Day, more than two years since the end of the most punishing recession since the Great Depression, American families hoping to stay in the middle class are facing long odds.
With one job opening for every four unemployed people, chances are if you're out of work, you can't find a job. With nearly 13 million families in danger of foreclosure and banks often not playing by the rules, too few Americans will be able to keep their homes. With the price of health care rising, too many Americans have skipped a checkup or gone without a prescription because they couldn't afford it. If you're Latino and in the middle class, it's no secret that the odds that you will be able to remain there are tough. Latinos face an unemployment rate of 11% compared to 9% overall, a foreclosure rate of nearly 8% compared to White homeowners at 4.5%, and a poverty rate of 25% compared to 14% overall.
In the not so distant past, it seemed that people who worked hard and played by the rules were rewarded. The Latino population in the U.S. was making significant strides toward joining the middle class. The Latino homeownership rate reached a historic high water mark in 2006 at 50% and jobs were plentiful, especially in entry-level construction work. But the fractures in the foundation were already visible--tell-tale signs that the deck was stacked.
The economy has taken a significant toll on the labor, financial, and housing markets in the past few years. The impact on Latino families has been significant. Between 2005 and 2009, median household wealth among Latinos fell 66% compared with just 16% among White households, resulting in a nearly 17 to 1 wealth gap between Hispanic households ($6,325 in wealth) and White households ($113,149 in wealth). In 2009, Latino child poverty hit 33%, its highest rate since 1997. Given the fact that Latino children are tomorrow's workers and taxpayers, this kind of backsliding not only threatens the possibility of a Latino middle class, but an American middle class as well.
It is time to improve the odds, starting with policies to ensure that workers, homeowners, and families are rewarded fairly for working hard to pursue the American Dream. First, we need to modernize our labor laws and invest in our workforce to ensure that everyone who is able to work has the opportunity to do so with dignity and to move up in their careers. In the current environment, we need the public and private sectors to come together on a massive effort to get people back to work today rebuilding our roads and bridges, caring for our children and elders, and gaining new skills to meet our country's energy challenges. Second, we need to restore fairness to the housing market, providing a real solution to the foreclosure crisis and providing realistic opportunities to become homeowners. Finally, we need to modernize our consumer protection system and hold the banks accountable for their actions that have hurt so many families and our economy.
Poll after poll has shown that Latinos are optimistic about the future and their prospects for achieving the American Dream. We have a chance to move the country in a direction that is focused on creating opportunity and rewarding hard work. With these bold steps, we can recover lost progress and rebuild the Latino middle class. Our country's future depends on our success.
This post was originally published on the NCLR Blog.