MIAMI – For Hispanics in America, the ravaged economy has been a personal nightmare.
While the stubborn downturn has rocked the country, an extensive Associated Press-Univision poll of the nation's Hispanics fleshes out the disproportionate toll on the fastest-growing minority group.
Nearly half or more express intense worry over losing their jobs, paying bills or saving for college, and similar numbers say they or a relative were unemployed recently — all of it worse than the general population's experience.
"There's nothing stable," said Alberto Alvarez, 49, a Cuban immigrant and construction worker in Miami. "Today there's a job. Tomorrow there's another. And the next, there's nothing."
More than 1,500 Latinos were interviewed for the poll, which was conducted as the nation's unemployment rate hovered near 10 percent and the economy struggled to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Hispanics are particularly vulnerable because they are less educated, have lower incomes and are likelier to be new to the United States than other groups.
The AP-Univision survey, also sponsored by The Nielsen Company and Stanford University, underscores how the those forces have combined to hit home for many Latinos. Six in 10 said it's hard for them to get ahead financially these days, including over one-quarter who said it's very tough.
Forty-five percent said they or a relative have lost a job since September, compared with 30 percent of the overall population who said yes to a similar question in an AP-GfK Poll in May.
In addition, 39 percent of Latinos, many facing financial woes, said someone in their family had skipped a doctor's visit recently despite thinking they needed attention. Thirty-one percent of the general population said they had foregone care when asked that same question last fall in an AP poll.
As a group, Hispanics seem more intensely shaken than others by the economic problems they face.
According to the survey, 57 percent worry a lot about being unable to pay bills — well above the 34 percent of the entire population who said that in the May AP-GfK Poll. Forty-eight percent of Hispanics said they worry greatly about becoming unemployed — double the overall population's concern.
And more than 4 in 10 Hispanics express extreme worry over medical expenses, being unable to afford college and missing credit card and mortgage payments — in each case exceeding the general population's angst.
"We'd have to get rid of our home, our car" to afford major medical expenses, said Teresa Quintero, 59, of South Gate, Calif., who sells real estate and says she has no health coverage. "How else are you going to pay a medical bill?"
Hispanics have been hit hard economically because they tend to be heavily represented in blue-collar jobs such as manufacturing and construction, which saw bigger job losses during the recession, said Rakesh Kochhar, associate director for research at the Pew Hispanic Center. Fewer Hispanics work in industries such as health, education or the government, which have fared better during the downturn.
"They are now being disproportionately hurt due to the crash in the construction and housing sector," Kochhar said, noting that Hispanics also benefited from the housing boom earlier in the decade. "They've ridden the roller coaster more than others."
About 1 in 3 Hispanics said they have to cover their own health expenses, without insurance. As if they need another burden, about 1 in 6 said they send money to someone in another country nearly every month or more frequently.
"The personal experience really shoots that fear level higher than it might be for the average American" who doesn't directly face financial hardship, said Gabriel R. Sanchez, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico who focuses on Hispanics.
Despite all the economic gloom, Hispanics are remarkably positive about their own situations. A majority say it has been easier for them to find jobs than it was for their parents. When it comes to raising a family and buying a home, on balance Hispanics say things are better now than they were for previous generations.
Half of the respondents said they owned their own home. And most Hispanics say they believe it will be easier for their children when it's time for them to get jobs and buy homes.
Just under half of those surveyed said they were born in the U.S., and the poll showed they are faring better than Hispanic immigrants. Those from abroad expressed far more worry about jobs, bills, college savings and other expenses, with similar gaps between predominantly Spanish- and English-speaking Latinos, and between non-citizens and citizens.
Those same divisions exist when it comes to borrowing money. Hispanics born in the U.S., and those who speak mostly English with their families, expressed more comfort with long-term debt like mortgages than did those born abroad or who usually speak Spanish.
The AP-Univision Poll was conducted from March 11 to June 3 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Using a sample of Hispanic households provided by The Nielsen Company, 1,521 Hispanics were interviewed in English and Spanish, mostly by mail but also by telephone and the Internet. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Stanford University's participation in the study was made possible by a grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report. Alan Fram reported from Washington.