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Social Economic Well Being Synopsis
Over a decade ago, Mujeres Latinas en Acción embarked upon an
ambitious project – a comprehensive study on the role of Latinas
in Chicago. Latina Portrait was borne, and the report provided a
revealing look into Latina history, and how Latinas have shaped
the social and cultural makeup of Chicago’s communities.
Latina Portrait 2009 will follow suit of the original benchmark
study to explore the current state of Latinas, including information
on immigration, education and economics. This follow up report
will also include information relevant to Latinas in Chicagoland’s
six collar counties in the areas of Mental Health, Reproductive
Health and Health Disparities, Sexual Assault and Domestic
Violence, and Domestic Workers.
Latina Portrait contains research derived from both quantitative
and qualitative data and analysis that provides an overall
examination of Latina experiences in the Chicago area.
Policy recommendations are included in the report offering
recommendations to address the root causes of problems facing
Latinas in the Chicago metropolitan area. Mujeres hopes this
study will offer the information and insight needed to improve
the lives of Latinas and their families.
This selection is a synopsis of the research report on the Social
Economic Well Being of Latinas by Elizabeth L. Sweet. For more
information on the Latina Portrait, please contact Mujeres Latinas
en Acción at 773-890-7676.
By Elizabeth L. Sweet, PhD
University of Illinois Urbana Champaign
Department of Urban and Regional Planning
Social Economic Well Being
While Latinas have constantly woven vibrant patterns into the social and economic fabric
of Chicago since the early 20th century, they have historically endured a disadvantaged
position within the context of socioeconomic structures and institutions. They �rst
came as migrant workers mostly from Mexico and attained permanent resident status as
industrialization required their presence. The railroad, meat-packing and steel industries
all needed large numbers of workers, who also necessitated services to support their well
being. Latinas played a signi�cant role in food preparation, lodging, laundry, childcare,
and other important services.
The Latino/a population in Chicago experienced its greatest increase from 1970 to
2000 with less than 330,000 in 1970 to over 1.4 million by 2000 (Paral et. al, 2004: 6). historically
Currently representing the third largest racial/ethnic group in Metropolitan Chicago, endured a
Latinos/as continue to impact its social, economic and political development. Women disadvantaged
have represented from 40 to 45 percent of the migrants from Mexico since the early part
of the 20th century (Secretaría de Desarrollo Social de México, 2005). Now they represent position within
over 50 percent of all Latinas in the U.S. (American Community Survey, 2007). the context of
While this data provides a foundation for understanding Latina economic well being in
Chicago, it is important to recognize the limitations of census data, including undercounting structures and
in Latino families, assumptions about what constitutes work and occupation, and the fact that institutions.”
the U.S. census and other data-gathering surveys do not include work in the informal sector
or other income-generating activities, such as part time and irregular employment (Raijman,
2001, Sweet 2000). Therefore, while U.S. census data is used to ascertain the oﬃcial portrait
of Latinas and social/economic well being, a more comprehensive picture arises through
focus groups and other qualitative methods of investigation.
OVERVIEW OF ECONOMIC unemployed, or participate in non-regulated economic
activities. Only 30 percent of the entire Latina population is
AND SOCIAL WELL BEING: employed in formal sector jobs. While these data oﬀer a gen-
Social and economic well being is traditionally evaluated by eral understanding of Latina participation in mainstream
income, education, access to health care, and housing. Through waged labor activities, they do not inform us about the
analysis of 2000 and 2007 Census PUMS (Public Use Micro informal or other economic and service activities in which
Data Sample) data, an account of the social and economic Latinas often engage.
well being of Latinas, and their subgroups, in Metropolitan An informal economic activity refers to income generation,
Chicago reveals that Latinas lag behind almost all other in-kind consumption or exchange of services that is not
racial/ethnic groups in nearly every indicator. regulated or documented but occurs amidst a social context
Latinas are at great risk of economic marginalization within in which comparable activities might be regulated. Researchers
U.S. society depending on variables such as race, gender, have determined that participation in the informal economy
citizenship, language, and education. While the quantitative is essential to immigrants’ economic well being, implying
data are disheartening, the resourcefulness and ingenuity that census data may underestimate income and other
of Latinas for economic survival is inspiring. In spite of economic activities that aﬀect consumption for Latino/a
discrimination, economic hardship, violence, and neglect immigrant families.
that many Latinas encounter, they are developing networks,
creating opportunities for themselves and surviving. Latina Representation across Occupations
While Latinas compose 25 percent of Chicago’s total female
Income Generation population, they are underrepresented in eight of the 10 most
Based on income �gures, the overall situation for Latinas in common occupational categories where women are dominant.
the Metropolitan Chicago economy appears very grim. Over While Latinas are most noticeably underrepresented in the
50 percent of adult Chicago Latinas and nearly half in the categories of Management, Healthcare Practitioners and
surrounding six collar counties earned between $1 and $14,999 Technical, and Business and Financial Operations, they are
annually in 2000. In 2007, 41 percent of Latinas earned between overrepresented in Production at 55 percent of workers and
$1 and $18,059 (number adjusted to re�ect in�ations). Twenty- Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance at 30%.
nine point two percent (2007) of Latinas in Chicago and 27 The �ve most common occupation categories for Latinas in
percent (2007) in the six collar counties reportedly are not Chicago are: 1) Oﬃce and Administrative Support – 23%;
part of the labor force because they are students, caretakers 2) Production – 21%; 3) Sales Related Activities – 12%;
of the home and family, retired, institutionalized, chronically 4) Transportation and Material Moving – 7%; and
5) Food Preparation and Serving Related – 6%.
Average Annual Income of Women by Occupation Category
Women/Occupation White Asian Latina
Oﬃce and Administrative Support $22,092 $21,224 $19,096 $17,511
Sales and Related Activities $30,400 $11,253 $17,447 $11,329
Healthcare Practitioners $39,011 $34,875 $44,917 $29,770
Healthcare Support $14,966 $14,337 $10,592 $16,334
Personal Care and Service $15,103 $10,558 $11,055 $10,347
Education, Training, and Library $27,035 $25,814 $18,107 $20,472
Management $55,353 $38,062 $43,870 $35,984
Food Preparation and Serving Related $10,721 $9,659 $9,575 $9,548
Production $16,281 $16,629 $13,965 $12,857
Transportation and Material Moving $12,071 $15,145 $10,343 $10,230
Table 1 Source: US CENSUS 2000 PUMS 5% Sample.
2 social economic well being
Latinas earn less in most occupations than other groups
of women (see Table 1). The disproportionate concentration
of Latinas in lower income-generating occupations may
Mean Total Income by Education
be explained by an intersection of factors, such as education Level for Latinas in Chicago
level, immigration status, degree of English language pro-
�ciency, and discrimination. The current and widespread Education Level 2000 2007
anti-immigrant sentiment and policy climate, which
overwhelmingly targets Latinos/as, may also in�uence Less then High School $13,427 $14,504
the tendency of employers to pay Latinas less and keep
them in lower paying positions.
High School $17,021 $19,648
The saying, “The more you learn, the more you earn,” Associates Degree $26,835 $29,479
describes the socioeconomic indicator in which higher
formal education levels correspond with higher income levels. Bachelors Degree $30,364 $37,061
Since Latinas have the lowest level of formal education across
all racial groups, they face the greatest disadvantage regarding Table 2 Source: US Census 2000 and 2007 PUMS
high skilled employment opportunities. On average, over half
in 2000 and 40 percent in 2007 of all Latinas in the metro area
did not have a high school diploma or equivalency and are,
therefore, more likely to work in lower paying industries Language, Citizenship
and occupations (see Table 2). and Immigration Status
Catanzarite and Bernabe Aguilera (2002) argue that structural
Low levels of citizenship and of English pro�ciency signi�cantly
issues in addition to formal education are important factors
challenge Latinas trying to access education and workforce
aﬀecting wage gaps for Latinos and Latinas. Speci�cally, they
training programs that serve their interests and have the
point to concentration of Latinos in job sites as a major
potential to increase their earning power. Recognizing this,
contributing factor for lower wages.
eﬀective training and education programs serving Latinas
Research regarding why Chicago Latinas have low education should include a focus on pathways to becoming U.S. citizens
levels is limited; however, one study revealed several edu- and on increasing English language pro�ciency. Currently,
cational barriers for Latinos/as in the southeastern region 44 percent of adult Latinas in Chicago and 45 percent of adult
of the country, which may parallel the challenges Chicago Latinas in the six collar counties are not U.S. citizens. Non-
Latinas face: lack of understanding of the U.S. school system, U.S. citizen adult Latinas have higher unemployment rates,
low parental involvement in their child’s education, lack of lower education levels, lower average incomes, and are more
residential stability, little school support for needs speci�c occupationally concentrated than Latina U.S. citizens.
to Latinos/as, few incentives for Latino/a education, and
The same can be said for adult Latinas with low English
barred access to higher education for undocumented
pro�ciency. Twenty-�ve percent of Latinas over �ve years
immigrants (Bohon, MacPherson, & Atiles, 2005).
old have low levels of English pro�ciency; that is, they speak
Additionally, young Latinas with immigrant parents may English “not well” or “not at all.” Additionally, 43 percent of
be more likely to have expectations at home that emphasize adult Latinas who do not speak English “very well” or “well”
traditional roles with family obligations and work work in low-paying manufacturing jobs.
social economic well being 3
While undocumented immigrants in Metropolitan Chicago
make a substantial contribution to the regional economy
through their consumer expenditures, their socioeconomic
mobility has been severely restricted by the growing xenophobia
and hate toward immigrants across the nation. Undocumented
status not only limits a Latina immigrant’s ability to fully
integrate into society, but also increases her vulnerability
to wage exploitation, poor working conditions and violence.
The percentage of Latinas living in poverty has almost
doubled from 1990 to 2000. This is a serious problem! During
the economic boom of the 1990s, the percent of Latinas living
in poverty jumped dramatically (see Table 3). These data suggest
that the rising economic tide during the 1990s did not raise all
boats. Policy makers and service providers need to be mindful
that general trends do not necessarily hold for Latinas and
other marginalized groups; therefore, policies and programs
need to be developed with consideration for the speci�c
circumstances Latinas are facing. The extraordinary 2008 and 2009 global economic downturn
Many Latinas encounter barriers when accessing social in combination with new local anti-immigrant policies and the
services, educational opportunities, job training, and legal intensi�ed enforcement of older federal anti-immigrant policies
services often because of language diﬀerences, and frequently has pushed more Latinas into poverty. The dramatic increase
they are discriminated against when trying to access services. in deportations to over 30,000 per year (up from about 1,700
Undocumented Latina immigrants are often not eligible to in 2003) as a result of raids across the county has broken up
receive services because of their immigration status. Without families. Often one parent, usually the mother, is allowed to
culturally sensitive and respectful service providers, as well stay behind to take care of born children, but without
as curriculum for education and training, progress cannot permission to work. Latinas are forced to look for more
be made. Progress is also, however, slowed by larger national creative and sometimes illicit ways of providing for the
and global contexts. basic needs of their children.
Percentage of Latinas in Poverty We must develop programs and opportunities for Latinas that
(Annual income between $1 - $14,999) will provide livable wages and income suﬃcient to support
their families. But we also need to help raise collective social
1990 2000 consciousness, which can lead to social, economic and political
empowerment of Latinas in the context of a deep economic
Mexican 22.7% 51.7% crisis and an extreme anti-immigrant climate. Only through
collaborative, multifaceted and targeted strategies can we begin
Puerto Rican 36.0% 50.5% to address this gross economic injustice that is an integral part
of the experience of Latinas in Chicago and the surrounding
Cuban 21.6% 44.6% suburbs. National and local political and formal education
structures do not support economic empowerment for Latinas.
Central American 25.9% 51.1% Policies like the Workforce Investment Act do not provide
comprehensive services, including childcare, legal assistance,
Other 16.9% 47.3% ESL and GED programs, that would make training and edu-
cation plans eﬀective in helping Latinas obtain and maintain
Sources: 1990 ﬁgures from Latina Portrait 1996. 2000 living wage jobs. Additionally, programs that support cooper-
ﬁgures from the 2000 census for all Latinas (regardless ative or social purpose businesses would go a long way in
of family size making between $1 and $14,999 in 2000). helping to support Latinas in economic self-suﬃciency.
Table 3 Programs like Women for Economic Justice that provide
various programs including �nancial, as well as a cooperative
business training, oﬀer a holistic approach to the social and
economic well being of Latinas.
4 social economic well being
For policy makers: For service providers:
Invest in aﬀordable educational and professional Cultivate services that are sensitive to diﬀerences in
development opportunities that directly respond culture, economic class and immigration status.
to the needs and social conditions of Latinas. • Make cultural sensitivity training mandatory for
Opportunities include: staﬀ, addressing the impact of factors such as
economic class and immigration status.
• Financial literacy training
• Provide opportunities for empowerment by oﬀering
• Cooperative business training Latinas a greater share of participant slots in programs.
• English classes for all levels • Organize agency and community dialogues that
• Spanish literacy classes deal with the strong in�uence of discrimination
• GED courses in both English and Spanish against Latinas, and establish an action plan to
• Career development courses oﬀered in Spanish
Create educational opportunities that meet the needs
Expand funding for culturally and sensitive compre-
and promote the interests of Latina learners.
hensive services that promote the participation and
advancement of Latinas in educational and • Design a curriculum for literacy, language and
professional development programs. professional programs that accommodates the
learning styles and meets learners where they are.
These services include: • Develop and oﬀer �nancial literacy and cooperative
• Job search assistance business trainings based on the speci�c needs
• Childcare options of Latinas.
• Transportation assistance Provide comprehensive services that facilitate the partici-
• Leadership training pation and advancement of Latinas in educational and
professional development programs.
• Civic participation opportunities
• Educational tutoring or cohort coaching • Increase opportunities to access job search assistance,
childcare options, transportation assistance, civic
Support comprehensive immigration reform that allows activities, and educational tutoring or cohort coaching.
undocumented immigrants and their families to wholly
• Promote leadership training for and give positions
integrate into society without fear.
of leadership to Latinas.
Provide Funding for ongoing research that documents
and analyzes the experiences of Latinas within a broader
understanding of the economy that captures their realities.
Bohon, S., MacPherson, H., & Atiles, J. 2005. “Educational Barriers Paral, Rob, Timothy Ready, Sung Chun, and Wei Sun. 2004
for New Latinos in Georgia.” Journal of Latinos in Education, 4(1): Latino Demographic Growth in Metropolitan Chicago A series
43-58. of papers by the Institute for Latino Studies and research
Catanzarite, Lisa and Michael Bernabe Aguilera 2002. Working associates University of Notre Dame Institute for Latino Studies.
with Co-Ethnics: Earnings Penalties for Latino Immigrants at Puente, Silvia. 1996. Latinas in Chicago: a Portrait, Mujeres
Latino Jobsites, Social Problems, Vol.49, No 1, pp 101-127, 2002. Latinas en Acción, Chicago
Harper-Anderson, Elsie 2002. The Distributional Impacts of the Raijman, Rebeca: Mexican Immigrants and Informal Self-
New Economy in a Major Metropolitan Area: Opportunities and employment in Chicago, Human Organization, Spring 2001.
Constraints in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dissertation, University
Scott, J. 2001, June 27. A census query is said to skew data on
of California Berkeley.
Latinos. The New York Times, pA1
Kirr, Louise Año Nuevo, 1976. The Chicano Experience in
Sweet, Elizabeth L. 2000. Gendered Effects of Structural
Chicago: 1920-1970. Ph. D Dissertation, University of Illinois at
Adjustment: A Case Study in Mexico. Dissertation,
University of Illinois Chicago.
Mehta, C., Theodore, N., Mora, I., & Wade, J. 2002. Chicago’s
U.S. Census PUMS 2000 and 2007
Undocumented Immigrants: An Analysis of Wages, Working
Conditions, and Economic Contributions. UIC Center for Urban
Economic Development. http://www.uic.edu/cuppa/uicued/
social economic well being 5
PORTRAIT Funded in part by The Chicago Foundation in Women
and The Marguerite Casey Foundation
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