By Stefan Snijders, Contributor
The University of Nebraska system may be at the nation’s forefront for research in various fields: a recent study by UNO researchers about poverty rates in Omaha produced humbling and concerning results.
As reported by the OmahaWorld-Herald on Jan. 4, the poverty rate among Hispanics in Omaha is outgrowing the nation’s average. Henry Cordes, reporter for theWorld-Herald, stated researchers speculated the depths of poverty for Latino and Hispanic families“ now approaches the levels seen in Omaha’s black community, which at times in recent years has suffered from one of the highest poverty rates in the nation.”
According to the research, the poverty rate in the Hispanic communities has risen from 17 percent to over 25 percent in the past 15 years.
Several factors were discussed in the article as catalysts for the increase in poverty. Among them were the consideration of illegal immigration and subsequent deportation of illegal immigrants. The article quoted a researcher from the Heritage Foundation, Robert Rector, as stating that 1 of every 10 children in poverty in America is the son or daughter of an undocumented immigrant parent.
Lourdes Gouveia, UNO’s director of the Office of Latino and Latin American Studies, explained that wage structure combined with illegal immigration may be a major factor. The article states since the‘90s, Hispanic families that moved to Nebraska and Omaha have gravitated toward lower skill jobs to get by, which have lower pay rates. Gouveia stressed this point, adding,“Hispanic workers have a high level of labor force participation. But their wages are among the lowest.”
Another factor considered was the increase in number of single mother families, although Gouveia made the distinction that this may be seen as a result of poverty, not a cause. However, this increase itself can be seen as a potential to perpetuate the poverty rates.
So how does this change affect college enrollment rates? David Drozd, a research coordinator for the UNO Public Affairs department, was a primary author of the study. In an interview on Jan. 23, he addressed the impact of these numbers against enrollment rates among Hispanic students.
“There’s a clear relationship between educational levels and poverty,” Drozd said while explaining that in the United States, for people age 25 or older, “nearly a quarter of people without a high school diploma are in poverty.”
By contrast, people with a bachelor’s degree or higher, less than four percent are of poverty level income. This makes a distinct difference, he said, for those in poverty situations; poverty self-perpetuates a difficulty to meet the financial needs for college, such as cost of tuition and books, as well as potential income lost for a household. This is even more startling when considering barely half of the Hispanic population in Nebraska have their high school diplomas, and less than 10percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Despite the increase in poverty numbers, Drozd said college enrollment rates have actually increased among the Hispanic community during that period of study.
“We’re starting to see more native-born, or Nebraska-born, His panics start to come,” Drozd said.
The children born and raised in the Omaha area, as well as the outlying metropolitan regions, are coming of college age, and are following through for the sake of their education. This may be due to financial outreach and assistance programs such as the University of Nebraska’s Goodrich Scholarship, or The College of St. Mary’s Mothers Living and Learning program.
Unfortunately, those programs are limited in scope so growth numbers may not be as considerable as could otherwise be hoped, but nevertheless, it is positive growth, according to Drozd.
Between 2008 and 2013, Drozd said, the number of Hispanic students enrolled in colleges in Nebraska has actually increased, going from 8,020 between 2008 and 2010, to 10,849 between 2011 and 2013. This is an increase of over 25 percent over a span of three years.
“We would expect at least the raw number to keep rising, as there’s going to be more and more Latino kids becoming age 17 and 18,”Drozd said. “But this percentage, that there’s a higher percent enrolled today…it gives us some idea that the college-going rate is going up.”