One rapidly growing segment of our country’s population is suffering disproportionately as the price of gas continues to soar. Latino families and businesses are bearing a heavier financial burden than most as fuel costs tick upward. This fact is compounded by high unemployment rates and fiscal year 2011 budget decisions that disinvest in alternative transportation options.
According to a poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, or PPIC, 83 percent of Latinos in that heavily car-dependent state name gas prices as a source of financial hardship. This comes despite their willingness to carpool and purchase fuel-efficient vehicles.
The PPIC poll results show that California Latinos are the least likely to report commuting alone to work. This finding is reflected on a national scale by both the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census. And at 81 percent, Latinos are also more likely than African Americans, Asians, and whites to have considered buying a more fuel-efficient car as a result of gas prices.
Rising fuel costs have hurt all American families. But while many are being forced to reevaluate their driving habits, the 2009 Consumer Expenditure Survey shows that Latinos on average spent a full percentage more of their income on gasoline and motor oil than the rest of the population that year. This is consistent with a 2008 Center for American Progress analysis, which found that overall, “minority families spend disproportionate shares of their income on gasoline and fuel.” The authors explain that in 2006, “Hispanics and Latinos were the hardest hit, devoting 5.4 percent of their income before taxes to gasoline and motor oil expenditures.”
And that’s before the Great Recession cut 3.1 million jobs between the first quarters of 2007 and 2008. Unemployment shot up by 44.3 percent according to a Pew Research Center study, severely cramping the finances of these newly jobless Americans. The same study found that Latinos were singularly affected: “[The percentage increase in unemployment] was highest among foreign-born Latinos [at] 58.3 percent, or 348,000 persons. Unemployment among native-born Latinos increased by 49.1 percent, [or] 329,000 persons.”
What’s more, job loss among Latinos began earlier than for other groups, suggesting more long-term unemployment. And high gasoline prices make it more difficult for them to reenter the labor market since it is increasingly more expensive to drive to multiple job interviews.