Connecticut's fast-growing Latino community has suffered tremendously during the economic downturn. That certainly is not a surprise. However, the full dimension of the impact, affecting virtually every aspect of daily life, is quite alarming.
New survey data demonstrates the full extent of the crisis, in the voices of people who are navigating tough times and dealing with extensive and pervasive damage to their quality of life. The just-completed statewide survey of Latino residents was conducted by the Center for Research & Public Policy.
When asked if there was a time during the past year when they needed to see a doctor but could not because of cost, nearly one in four respondents answered affirmatively (23.8 percent) — an increase from 15.9 percent just four years ago. The percentage of respondents who have health care insurance dropped slightly from a similar survey in 2007, as did the percentage who said they have a personal doctor or health care provider.
For those seeking to further their careers or career training, especially in the fast-changing technology fields, opportunities have diminished. Those surveyed reported that employer-supported training programs, technology training and reimbursement for college courses are all at levels less than four years ago. In fact, nearly two-thirds of all respondents indicated there was a time during the past year when they wanted to pursue additional education but could not because of cost. In an increasingly competitive job market, fewer chances to get more education can have serious and far-reaching negative consequences.
Those unemployed or looking for work totaled 12 percent — more than double the 4.8 percent reported in 2007. Stunningly, the number of people holding three jobs quadrupled — to 2.9 percent, from 0.7 percent in 2007 and 0.5 percent in a 2002 survey. The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics recently indicated that Connecticut's Hispanic unemployment rate is the third highest in the United States, just behind Rhode Island and Nevada.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the Latino population in our state has grown by 50 percent in the past decade, and is now 13.4 percent of the state's population — approximately 500,000 people. So, there is little doubt that the economic vitality of Connecticut's Latino population has tremendous significance for the state's short- and long-term economic well-being.
Much has been said recently about the need to kick-start economic growth in Connecticut by encouraging entrepreneurism and start-up businesses. But among those who own or would like to own a business, less than half (42 percent) knew where to go for advice or financial help to begin or expand a business. More must be done to inform the Latino community — and all state residents — precisely how to establish a business and where to turn for supportive expertise and resources.
Headlines have been made in recent months reporting specific instances of discrimination. Apprehension among the state's Latino residents, according to the survey, goes well beyond a single community or single encounter. Concerns regarding discrimination are prevalent across many circumstances, as respondents said they have felt discrimination in the workplace (38 percent), when pulled over by law enforcement (35 percent), when job seeking (31 percent) or when seeking housing (27 percent) or a loan (21 percent).
When asked to rate how fairly the Connecticut court system delivers justice, only 22 percent offered a positive rating, while nearly twice that number — 43 percent — provided a negative rating. Asked if their local police department was "treating people with respect," only 39 percent provided a positive rating while one-third (33 percent) provided a poor rating.
Safety was another area of concern. Although more than three-quarters of those surveyed felt safe when alone in their neighborhoods during the day, at night that percentage dropped to 52 percent regarding their neighborhood and 46 percent in their business area. Having half the state's Latino population concerned about something as basic as safety is troubling.
Taken together, these results paint a picture filled with what the survey authors described as "declines in socio-economic conditions" including some where the "declines are significant."
Now that we are aware of the extent of the problems — statistically as well as anecdotally — our collective challenge is to intensify our efforts to tackle them directly and achieve solutions. The future well-being of Connecticut's Latino residents and our state will be determined by our degree of success.
Werner Oyanadel is the acting executive director of the State of Connecticut's Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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