A recent Pew Hispanic Center report shows that, during the great recession (2005-2008), the sheer number of Latino children in poverty overtook the number of non-Hispanic white children for the first time in US history. Yet, even these numbers likely underestimate Latino child poverty because of a key difference in household composition.
Latinos, like African Americans, are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to live in “doubled-up” households. And the children of immigrants, who are driving much of the population growth, are even more likely than children of native-born Latinos to live in “doubled-up” households that pool resources and provide social support to friends, family, or fellow immigrants in both good times and bad.
“Doubling-up” often masks underlying economic hardship. That’s because poverty determinations assume that all income within a household is shared equally among its members. Even if generally true, this assumption can lead researchers astray. For example, when a family takes in a co-worker from their home town, the household’s status may jump from poor to non-poor, even though the new arrival may be paying only for his own expenses — that is, not sharing resources with the host family.
Another complication is that “doubled-up” families often underreport the number of people under their roofs out of fear of violating their lease, running afoul of local code enforcement, and risking the loss of their housing. As a result, household income often appears to support fewer people than it actually does.
With the number of “doubled-up” families on the rise nationwide, researchers need to find ways to help policy-makers better understand these households’ dynamics in order to make sound public policy decisions. To get that ball rolling, future MetroTrends blogs will further examine “doubled-up” families and the related research and policy challenges.