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Despite A Growing Latino Middle Class, California Families Face Hurdles Getting There

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Despite rising incomes and lower poverty rate for Latinos, many California families struggle.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 California's Latino middle class is expanding, but many families still struggle. The census says 17% of California's Latino population is still below the federal poverty line and traditional paths to financial stability are becoming increasingly difficult today. In the second of two stories for the California dream collaborations, k p CC's, Leslie Berenstein Rojas introduces us to a family for whom the dream remains out of reach.

Speaker 2: 00:31 About a hundred people are waiting for groceries at the first Christian Church in Downey. It's a Saturday morning when the church does its weekly food giveaway. The hall is packed. Jeanette Perez sits on a folding chair. Her baby boy in her lap, her six year old son plays a couple of feet away. It's their first time here. I was told through my job that they were donating food here at the church. Do I came by to see what they could give me a, since we're struggling right now, especially after I've just had the baby Perez and her husband both work, he installs car stereos. She works in nutrition at a headstart preschool, but even with two incomes, they're just scraping by. It gets to her. It's really difficult. Our Brennan's like 1375 and our car payment is, you know, almost $500 so we can't afford anything right now. The hole is filled with families in similar circumstances. The wages are too low. They say the rent is too high. Some like Perez live in nearby communities. Others live right here in Downey. A city regarded as a haven for the Latino middle class, but it isn't that for everyone, especially these days.

Speaker 3: 01:42 The California of today does not hold the same kinds of opportunities that it did 30 years ago.

Speaker 2: 01:49 USC sociologist Jodie, ages by year hose says some of the very opportunities that allowed previous generations of Latinos to reach middle class status in California are becoming more elusive. It used to be saving up and buying property was one of the main ways that dino families built wealth. Even on modest incomes these days, it's harder to do. While the median income for us Latinos is going up in California, it's not nearly enough.

Speaker 3: 02:15 It's not just the fact that home ownership costs are high. Even just having to pay high rents can prevent people from saving to buy a home

Speaker 2: 02:23 waiting for her groceries. Jeanette Perez says she wishes her family could afford a home of their own so my children can have somewhere to live, so they won't struggle the way we did, but it feels out of reach. She says with your overhead, they just can't save. Neither she nor her husband have a college degree. Their wages are unsteady. Perez says this summer will be tough because she won't get paid until school starts. Cal State Fullerton, sociologist Anthony [inaudible]. Russ says unreliable hours are also a big problem for Latinos in lower earning jobs.

Speaker 3: 02:54 We still do see high levels of what we would call income volatility hours.

Speaker 2: 03:00 They get cut from week to week or month to month, make it hard to accumulate savings. Other obstacles, many Latinos, especially the first generation are underbanked. They lack access to credit. As for the second generation, extended family obligations can eat into their finances. Let's say

Speaker 3: 03:17 your brother or sister has had a mishap with their car and they need three new tires.

Speaker 2: 03:24 If you earn more money, your expected to help out, he says, and then you can fall behind. Also, for some, there's a very big obstacle. Legal status. The population of unauthorized immigrants in the u s has declined, but getting legal status has gotten more difficult with the pathways to the middle class becoming rockier will future generations of California's Latino families have a harder time cracking the ceiling by your process? Maybe, but there's also reason for hope. California has immigrant friendly laws. It's enacted recent policies like raising the minimum wage and expanding healthcare, widening the social safety net if we can make it

Speaker 3: 04:02 and accessible for all. If we can invest in things like access to capital and helping to ease people's housing burdens, all of those things could really help to promote economic stability.

Speaker 2: 04:16 Before she left with her groceries, Jeanette Perez told me she and her husband have thought about leaving the state, but they realized they're better off than some Californians, and I told my husband, you know what? We at least have somewhere to live, and they're grateful for that. In Downey, I'm Leslie Berenstein Rojas.

Speaker 4: 04:39 [inaudible].

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.