Dec. 20, 2006 – The threat of hunger hangs more heavily over Latino households than their white counterparts, and advocates trace the stark inequality to economic, social and bureaucratic barriers.
According to a report released today by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a national Latino civil-rights organization, about 18 percent of Latino households suffer from food insecurity â€“ or an inability to ensure a consistent, adequate supply of nutrition. That figure, which represents 19.6 percent of the Latino population, is double the rate among households headed by non-Hispanic whites. Fully 22.4 percent of non-Hispanic black households are considered food insecure.
One of the main factors the report associates with food insecurity is a glaring gap in economic opportunity. Although Latinos are employed at higher rates than blacks or whites, government statistics show that Latino workers make less than either group.
The report also found that where Latinos live impacts their access to nutritious foods. Noting a surge in the Latino population in the South and Midwest, where there is demand for seasonal workers, the report argues that grueling labor, unstable housing and low wages of migrant jobs aggravate food-security problems.
"It is disturbing that some of those who are most involved in providing food for the nation â€“ helping to plant and harvest agricultural products each year â€“ are highly susceptible to hunger," wrote the reportâ€™s authors.
Latinos in urban centers such as New York City and Los Angeles face other obstacles to sustaining their food supply. The report cites new research showing that food infrastructure in inner-city neighborhoods often fails to support adequate, affordable diets, as quality markets tend to cluster in relatively affluent areas.
The National Council of La Raza also points to structural barriers limiting access to government nutritional assistance, particularly food stamps. Even authorized immigrants must meet certain work and residency requirements to obtain food stamps. And among those who qualify, Latinos have lower participation in the program than the overall nationwide rate, according to federal data. According to the NCLR, common deterrents that alienate food-stamp-eligible immigrants include "a lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach and information," "confusion regarding eligibility" and fear of requesting public assistance.