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Most low-income Latino parents work. They need support in other ways, study finds.

“Latino parents’ quality of work and work circumstances all compose trade-offs in child development,” the study's author said.

A recent study establishes that most Latino children residing in households with low-incomes live with at least one employed adult. But the job is often accompanied by paltry wages and irregular hours — factors that can significantly affect a family’s economic mobility and children’s development.

“Instead of focusing on providing employment to Latino parents, we should be focusing on how to advance the positions they already hold,” said Lisa A. Gennetian, a visiting associate professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and lead author of a study by the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families. “The question should no longer solely be, ‘How do we move low-wage Latino parents to the workforce?’ because the majority are already there.”

Using data spanning five years from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, the American Time Use Survey, the American Community Survey and other sources, the research looked at the financial positions low-income Latino families hold.

While previous research has established that Latino children disproportionately suffer from poverty, this new summary debunks the hypothesis that such poverty is attributed to lack of parental employment.

Sixty-four percent of low-income Latino children living with two nonimmigrant parents lived with an employed adult in 2012. By comparison, the numbers were 67 percent for non-Latino white children and 54 percent for black children.

Eighty-one percent of low-income Latino children with at least one immigrant parent lived in a household with one or more employed adults.

“This research is a new way of characterizing the experience of poverty for Latino children,” Gennetian said.

“While these children tend to reside in households with high employment and stable incomes, which can be stabilizing and are positive inputs to their development, their parents may not have employment benefits or receive government benefits which affects the economic mobility of the family," she added.

For Latinos, fewer sources of income stability

The main sources of income stability for low-income families are earnings from employed adults’ wages as well as the monthly receipt of government benefits such as food stamps. Yet, this recent collection of data from the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families shows that unlike their white and black peers, low-income Latino families cite earnings from wages alone as their source of income stability.

One key explanation for this is that low-income Latinos report immigration-related concerns as a major reason for not applying for government benefits — a finding that holds even for previously undocumented immigrants who became naturalized citizens.

“Latino parents’ quality of work and work circumstances all compose trade-offs in child development,” Gennetian said. “Earned income may be able to pay for food, but if there’s any kind of economic shock — physical injury, natural disaster, death — it makes them more economically vulnerable. There’s a host of implications that supporting low-wage markets can benefit Latino children.”

Low-wage work not only affects Latino families’ ability to build wealth, it also affects the amount of time parents spend with their children. From 2003 to 2013, low-income Latino fathers residing with their children spent more time on paid work than activities like caring for and helping to raise children, education, play, health and travel, compared to their white and black peers.

“This knowledge should enable us to rethink policy,” Gennetian said. Higher wage benefits and flexible paid-time-off benefits could go a long way in helping Latino parents as they try to provide for their children.

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