Latinos in the U.S. are making more money, especially the women, but the number of Hispanic families below the poverty line continues to increase, according to Census Bureau data released last week.

The new data is part of the American Community Survey that provides a snapshot of certain aspects of American life that otherwise wouldn’t be available until the 10-year census. For Latinos, the picture is simultaneously optimistic and bleak.

“Overall, wealth levels and wealth inequality have not improved,” explained Eric Rodriguez, vice president of National Council of La Raza, a Washington D.C.-based group that works on policy issues that impact Latinos. “Among [racial and ethnic] groups, the gap remains substantially wide. We do see improvements in educational attainment. Employment levels are up. Those are positive signs [for Latinos].”

Hispanics from every Latin American country (Brazil was not listed in the survey because, since its population speaks Portuguese rather than Spanish, it is not considered Hispanic or Latino by the Bureau) had bigger paychecks compared than five years ago.

Immigrants from Bolivia, one of the poorest countries of South America, took the top spot: they have the highest number of households that make above $200,000. They are also the group with the largest increase in median household income — from $59,198 to $64,662. Spaniards followed closely behind.

Dominicans had the lowest household income – $36,869 in 2014 – and Guatemalans, Hondurans and Puerto Ricans all had median incomes below $40,000.

“For Dominicans, that has been the long-term trend,” explained Patricia Foxen, deputy director of research of NCLR. The population has a large number of single-mother households and also undocumented members, both of which result in lower wages and have created a cycle of generational poverty.

But the news wasn’t entirely bleak.

Men and women both saw increasing wages since 2004. While the median income for men is still higher than women, Latinas got big financial boosts. Hispanic men made 8.4 percent more, jumping from $29,173 from 2004 to 2009 to $32,450 from 2009 to 2014. The salary for Latinas shot up by 11.07 percent – from $26,264 to $29,173.

But Latina’s paychecks are still far smaller than those of white females (in 2014 Caucasian women had a median income of $40,368; their salaries increased 10.8 percent).

Even if paychecks are increasing across the board, females have been having a harder time financially recovering from the recession than men, Foxen noted. The number of single-parent households led by a woman that fell below poverty lines increased sharply. From 2004 to 2009, there were 858,579 such households. From 2009 to 2014, there were 1,148,810 — a 33 percent increase.

Still, things are looking up. Educational levels among Hispanics are rising. The number of Latinos who are graduating from high school is skyrocketing and the number achieving bachelor’s degrees is steadily increasing.  

Rodriguez cautioned though that Latino graduates struggle to find jobs after college and so, if the Latino population is in fact becoming more affluent and carrying more status, it may not be reflected until the next Census, when the graduates have had maturity in the workplace.

“There are some signs that would reflect improvements in household income, but [the data] masks some things happening over time,” said Rodriguez.

For example, a bigger paycheck doesn’t necessarily indicate upward mobility. The economy is getting onto steadier ground after the real estate bubble burst, so jobs that have high Latino employment, such as construction, are picking up. But even though people are working more and earning more, they still may not be advancing enough within their workplaces to gain the kind of financial security that will allow them to break the poverty cycle.

“Part of what you’re seeing,” Rodriguez said, “is there are more hours of work versus climbing the career-work ladder.”

Soni Sangha is a freelance writer based in New York City.

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