Race and Social Problems

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 53–66 | Cite as

Convergence and Disadvantage in Poverty Trends (1980–2010): What is Driving the Relative Socioeconomic Position of Hispanics and Whites?

  • Marybeth J. MattinglyEmail author
  • Juan M. Pedroza


The gap between white and Hispanic poverty has remained stable for decades despite dramatic changes in the size and composition of the two groups. The gap, however, conceals crucial differences within the Hispanic population whereby some leverage education and smaller families to stave off poverty while others facing barriers to citizenship and English language acquisition face particularly high rates. In this paper, we use Decennial Census and American Community Survey data to examine poverty rates between Hispanic and non-Hispanic, white heads of household. We find the usual suspects stratify poverty risks: gender, age, employment, education, marital status, family size, and metro area status. In addition, Hispanic ethnicity has become a weaker indicator of poverty. We then decompose trends in poverty gaps between racial and ethnic groups. Between 1980 and 2010, poverty gaps persisted between whites and Hispanics. We find support for a convergence of advantages hypothesis and only partial support (among Hispanic noncitizens and Hispanics with limited English language proficiency) for a rising disadvantages hypothesis. Poverty-reducing gains in educational attainment alongside smaller families kept white–Hispanic poverty gaps from rising. If educational attainment continues to rise and family size drops further, poverty rates could fall, particularly for Hispanics who still have lower education and larger families, on average. Gains toward citizenship and greater English language proficiency would also serve to reduce the Hispanic–white poverty gap.


Poverty Hispanics Decomposition Immigration Trends 


  1. Amuedo-Dorantes, C., & Antman, F. (2016). Can authorization reduce poverty among undocumented immigrants? Evidence from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Economics Letters, 147, 1–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amuedo-Dorantes, C., Arenas-Arroyo, E., & Sevilla, A. (2016). Immigration enforcement and childhood poverty in the United States. IZA Discussion Paper No. 10030.
  3. Aponte, R. (1991). Urban Hispanic poverty: Disaggregations and explanations. Social Problems, 38(4), 516–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bean, F. D., Feliciano, C., Lee, J., & Van Hook, J. (2009). The new U.S. immigrants: How do they affect our understanding of the African American experience? The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 621(1), 202–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Census Bureau. (2017). How the Census Bureau measures poverty. Suitland: Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  6. Couch, K., & Daly, M. C. (2002). Black-white wage inequality in the 1990s: A decade of progress. Economic Inquiry, 40(1), 31–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Couch, K., & Fairlie, R. (2010). Last hired, first fired? Black–white unemployment and the business cycle. Demography, 47(1), 227–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Douglas, K. M., & Saenz, R. (2008). “No Phone, No Vehicle, No English, No Citizenship”: The Vulnerability of Mexican Immigrants in the United States. In A. Hattery, D. Embrick, & E. Smith (Eds.), Globalization and America: Race, human rights and inequality (pp. 161–180). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  9. Fairlie, R. (2006). An extension of the Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition technique to logit and probit models. Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA). Retrieved from Scholar
  10. Firebaugh, G., & Farrell, C. R. (2016). Still large, but narrowing: The sizable decline in racial neighborhood inequality in Metropolitan America, 1980–2010. Demography, 53(1), 139–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Garcia, G. (2011). Mexican American and immigrant poverty in the United States. The Springer series on demographic methods and population analysis. New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
  12. Iceland, J. (1997). Urban labor markets and individual transitions out of poverty. Demography, 34(3), 429–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Iceland, J. (2003). Why poverty remains high: The role of income growth, economic inequality, and changes in family structure, 1949–1999. Demography, 40(3), 499–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Iceland, J., & Wilkes, R. (2006). Does socioeconomic status matter? Race, class, and residential segregation. Social Problems, 53(2), 248–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jann, B. (2008). The Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition for linear regression models. The Stata Journal, 8(4), 453–479.Google Scholar
  16. Johnson, K. M., Schaefer, A., Lichter, D. T., & Rogers, L. T. (2014). The increasing diversity of America’s youth. Durham, NH: Carsey School of Public Policy. Retrieved from
  17. Kim, C. (2010). Decomposing the change in the wage gap between white and black men over time, 1980–2005: An extension of the Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition method. Sociological Methods & Research, 38(4), 619–651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kohler, U., Karlson, K. B., & Holm, A. (2011). Comparing coefficients of nested nonlinear probability models. Stata Journal, 11(3), 420–438.Google Scholar
  19. Kossoudji, S. A., & Cobb-Clark, D. A. (2002). Coming out of the shadows: Learning about legal status and wages from the legalized population. Journal of Labor Economics, 20(3), 598–628.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lichter, D. T., Parisi, D., & Taquino, M. C. (2012). The geography of exclusion: Race, segregation, and concentrated poverty. Social Problems, 59(3), 364–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lopez, M. J. (2013). Poverty among Hispanics in the United States. In M. T. Mora & A. Davila (Eds.), The economic status of the hispanic population: Selected essays (pp. 49–64). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.Google Scholar
  22. Massey, D. S., & Eggers, M. L. (1990). The ecology of inequality: Minorities and the concentration of poverty, 1970–1980. American Journal of Sociology, 95(5), 1153–1188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Massey, D. S., & Pren, K. A. (2012a). Origins of the new Latino underclass. Race and Social Problems, 4(1), 5–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Massey, D. S., & Pren, K. A. (2012b). Unintended consequences of US immigration policy: Explaining the post-1965 surge from Latin America. Population and Development Review, 38(1), 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mattingly, M. J., & Pedroza, J. M. (2015). “Why isn’t the hispanic poverty rate rising?” Pathways: A Magazine on Poverty, Inequality, and Social Policy (Spring). Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality.Google Scholar
  26. Orrenius, P., & Zavodny, M. (2013). Trends in poverty and inequality among Hispanics. In R. S. Rycroft (Ed.), The economics of inequality, poverty, and discrimination (pp. 217–235). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.Google Scholar
  27. Passel, J. S., & Cohn, D. (2009). A portrait of unauthorized immigrants in the United States. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Retrieved from
  28. Ruggles, S., Genadek, K., Goeken, R., Grover, J., & Sobek, M. (2015). Integrated public use microdata series: Version 6.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.Google Scholar
  29. Rugh, J. S., & Massey, D. S. (2014). Segregation in post-civil rights America. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 11(2), 205–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Siordia, C., & Leyser-Whalen, O. (2014). Mexican Americans’ lucky few and baby boom cohorts: How is relative cohort size related to the likelihood of being out-of-poverty? Sociological Focus, 47(3), 163–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sullivan, D. H., & Ziegert, A. L. (2008). Hispanic immigrant poverty: Does ethnic origin matter? Population Research and Policy Review, 27(6), 667–687.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Taylor, P., Lopez, M. H., Passel, J. S., & Motel, S. (2011). Unauthorized immigrants: Length of residency, patterns of parenthood. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center.Google Scholar
  33. Tienda, M., & Lii, D.-T. (1987). Minority concentration and earnings inequality: Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians compared. American Journal of Sociology, 93(1), 141–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Tran, V. C., & Valdez, N. M. (2017). Second-generation decline or advantage? Latino assimilation in the aftermath of the great recession. International Migration Review, 51(1), 155–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Van Hook, J., Brown, S. L., & Kwenda, M. N. (2004). A decomposition of trends in poverty among children of immigrants. Demography, 41(4), 649–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Waldinger, R. D. (1999). Still the promised city? African-Americans and new immigrants in postindustrial New York. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Wilson, W. J. (2015). New perspectives on the declining significance of race: A rejoinder. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 38(8), 1278–1284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Young, J. R. (2012). Underemployment in urban and rural America, 2005-2012. Durham, NH: Carsey Institute, University of New Hampshire. Retrieved from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stanford Center on Poverty and InequalityStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Carsey School of Public PolicyUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality and Department of SociologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

Personalised recommendations