Academic journal article Social Work

Providing Services to Hispanic/Latino Populations: Profiles in Diversity

Academic journal article Social Work

Providing Services to Hispanic/Latino Populations: Profiles in Diversity

Article excerpt

Social workers in many settings find themselves providing services to clients characterized as Hispanics or Latinos, a group with which they may have had little experience. Although the literature makes frequent reference to Hispanics as a very diverse group, there has been little discussion of the socially important differences and similarities among Hispanics and how these differences and similarities may affect the provision of services. Instead, discussions about the provision of social services to Hispanic people often quickly focus on cultural attributes taken as common among subgroups, primarily Mexican Americans (or Chicanos), Puerto Ricans, and Cubans. Questions that may arise in the mind of the practitioner are, What is the Hispanic population? If subgroups are diverse, in what ways are they diverse, and in what ways are they similar? What does it mean for culturally and racially diverse peoples to be perceived as members of a single ethnic group, and what are the implications of a client's ascription to this diverse group for practice?

Hispanic clients pose increasing challenges for social workers. This already large group is growing rapidly, and indicators such as age distribution and low median income levels indicate a rapidly increasing need for social services. The high numbers of recent immigrants, who often have limited English (Moore & Pachon, 1985) and experience a host of cultural factors that differentiate them from others in the population, add to the complexity of the challenge.

This article profiles the Hispanic/Latino population in the United States. It very briefly places the interactions of this group in the context of contemporary theories of ethnicity and discusses the diversity and similarities among members of the Hispanic/Latino group by examining key social features. The common experience of ascription to an ethnic minority in the United States has served as a primary unifying force that gave impetus--in a bidirectional process with state institutions--to the creation and maintenance of the Hispanic/Latino group.

Hispanics: A Statistical Profile

In April 1990, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, there were approximately 22 million people of Hispanic origin (referred to as Hispanics in the census literature) living in the United States out of a total population of 248.7 million. Hispanics, with 9.0 percent of the population, constituted the second largest minority group in the country after black Americans, with 12.1 percent. Because some census respondents identified themselves as both black and Hispanic, however, non-Hispanic blacks are only 11.8 percent of the nation's population. Furthermore, although census estimates are not available, the general assumption is that Hispanics are more likely to be undercounted than non-Hispanics (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1991b, 1991c, 1991d).

The social needs of Hispanics are underlined by their standing in four social indexes:

1. poverty: In 1992, 26.2 percent of Hispanic families had incomes below the poverty level, compared with 10.3 percent of non-Hispanic families. Twelve percent of the children in the United States were Hispanic in 1992, but 21 percent of the children living in poverty were Hispanic; of all Hispanic children, 39.9 percent lived in poverty in 1992 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993a).

2. income: The 1992 median income of non-Hispanic white households ($33,388) was 46.1 percent higher than that of Hispanic households ($22,848) (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993b).

3. family composition: Hispanics had a higher ratio of single-parent families (30 percent) than non-Hispanics (20 percent), and the ratio rose to 43 percent for the Puerto Rican-origin Hispanic subgroup (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1991a).

4. demographics: The Hispanic population is young compared with non-Hispanics, with median ages in 1990 of 26.0 and 33.5 years, respectively; 30 percent of Hispanics and 21 percent of non-Hispanics are less than 15 years of age. …

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