California's future depends on a strong Latino middle class, one researcher suggests, but the group has been struggling in categories such as income distribution, education, housing and employment and entrepreneurship.
Though it is the largest racial or ethnic group in California, Latinos continue to experience much lower economic well-being than the state's population as a whole, explained Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project.
Speaking to a small group gathered at Cal State Bakersfield Wednesday, Romero discussed how Latinos fare across the state with higher education degree completion, income levels, homeownership rates and other indicators according to data gathered through a year-long study funded by the California Latino Economic Institute.
Since 2010, every racial and ethnic group examined in California experienced a decrease in poverty rates, with Latinos seeing the largest decrease with 5.5 percentage points, according to the study. However, 17.4 percent of Latinos have incomes at or below the poverty level.
The median household income for Latinos in the state is $56,151. In Kern County, it is $42,329.
Homeownership becomes difficult for Latino families, Romero said. In 2017, the median home price for a single-family home in California was around $550,000, the study shows. According to the California Association of Realtors, a typical California home buyer would need to earn at least $111,260 annually.
"That gap is almost half" for Latinos, she said. "It's increasingly difficult for many to obtain."
Nearly 44 percent of Latinos are homeowners in the state, compared to around 64 percent of non-Latino whites, according to data collected in 2017. In Kern County, the rate of Latino homeownership is 50 percent.
Growth has been seen in education over the course of several years, but there is still work to be done.
Romero noted Latino high school graduation rates in the state increased from 68.1 percent in 2010 to 80.5 percent in 2016, which could be thanks to programs and investments focused around communities of color. California's total high school graduation rate stands at 83.8 percent.
Looking at higher education, however, at 13 percent, Latinos have the lowest four-year college degree or higher attainment compared to African Americans, Asian Americans and non-Latino whites. That number is 7.2 percent in the San Joaquin Valley — the region with the lowest attainment.
"We fully recognize that a college education is not for everyone, and barriers sometimes can be overwhelming," Romero said. "The challenge is not to qualify for college and get into college, but also to stay once you're there. ... Even though I ended up with a Ph.D., I can still say how damn hard it was to get there."
Kern County does have several areas where Latinos see greater economic opportunities, Mark Keppler, executive director of The Maddy Institute, noted. Out of the 10 highest scoring communities in the San Joaquin Valley, Rosedale ranked in at No. 1, with California City (No. 5) and Bakersfield and Tehachapi (tie for No. 7) also on the list.
"I always thought Bakersfield was this gem waiting to be found," Keppler said.
In order for the Latino community to thrive, Romero said it needs carefully allocated resources and investments designed to build economic well-being.
Romero's study, The State of Latino Economic Well-Being in California, can be accessed at https://static1.squarespace.com/static/57b8c7ce15d5dbf599fb46ab/t/5d2820cde6624e0001ad214d/1562912921569/CLEI+Latino+Middle+Class.pdf