The Latino Wage Gap In America

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Disposable income determines the socioeconomic status of people. Income in the US nvaries by race and ethnicity. White households are known to have higher incomes compared to the households of people of color. This paper focuses on the wage inequalities faced by the Latino population in the US. The paper further looks at the intersectional roles that race/ethnicity and socioeconomic conditions (Classism) play in perpetuating these inequalities. Also discussed will be the Latino wage inequalities from the Critical Race Theory (CRT) perspective. The paper further analyzes possible solutions to the problem at micro, mezzo, and macro levels of practice. Also discussed will be the need for cultural humility, anti-oppressive social work practice and policy implications.


Hispanic or Latino are defined as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Latinos are the largest minority in the US. There are about 58.9 million Hispanic people in the US, making them 18.1% of the population. In 2060, Hispanics will make 28.6% of the population, this is the projection of the Census Bureau (CNN, 2019). Despite being a large part of the US population, Latinos are on the lower strata of the society in areas of education, employment, healthcare etc. It is the disposable income of a household that determines its’ socioeconomic status. Racism in the US is strikingly evident when the income and wealth of white and non-white households are compared. Latinos earn a lower salary, on average than any other demographic. The troubling dynamics of Latino wage gap show that Latinos are often paid only 53 cents for every dollar paid to white and non-Hispanic men. The median annual pay for a Latina with a full-time, year-round job is $32,002, while the median annual pay for a white, non- Hispanic man with a full-time, year-round job is $60,388 (National Partnership, 2019).

Unemployment rates for both Latino men and women are higher than the national average. Latino men and women have been unable to close the college attainment gap with whites. For Latino men, the wage gap is mainly due to reasons such as education, experience, immigrant status, and local cost of living. But for Latino women, the reasons vary. They are paid poorly due to ethnic and gender discrimination, and other forms of discrimination. Hispanic men made 14.9 percent less in hourly wages than comparable white men, while Hispanic women made 33.1 percent less than comparable white men (Mora & Davila, 2018).

Levels of Oppression

Latinos continue to face racism at all four levels – Individual/Internalized, Interpersonal, Institutional, and Ideological/cultural. First of all, Latinos were colonized and exploited by the US, resulting in the Latino community internalizing negative self-perception and hate for fellow Latinos. Latinos believe they are unwelcome and a burden to the US economy and msubconsciously accept lower wages. Racism gets internalized when people start believing the oppressive, stereotypical attitudes imposed on them to be true. Secondly, Latinos report extensive interpersonal discrimination. Many have experienced racial or ethnic slurs and have received insensitive comments about their race or ethnicity. Interpersonal racism happens when peoples' behaviors toward each other are based on the stereotypes that they picked from the community, family, or institutions. Thirdly, Latinos report institutional discrimination in areas of jobs, equal pay, promotions, police interactions, voting, politics, healthcare, college applications, renting or buying house (NPR, 2017). Institutional racism is defined as the systemic basis by which resources and power are controlled by the dominant group in society through institutional policies and practices which are both conscious and unconscious, intentional, and unintentional.

Finally, Latinos report being discriminated for who they are. In a white dominated society, Latinos are not considered assimilated due to the color of their skin, their last names, their language, and their culture. Latinos are at constant disadvantage resulting in poor socioeconomic conditions of their population. Ideological or cultural racism is the assumptions, beliefs, messages, and symbols that reinforce particular aesthetic, behavioral qualities and norms as beautiful, right, and good, and the assumption that deviations from those norms are somehow unacceptable, inappropriate, and inferior.

Apart from the levels of racism mentioned above, there is an intersectional aspect to racism which operates in different forms such as Ableism, Ageism, Sexism, Classism, Heterosexism etc. Let us examine how classism as an intersectional factor affects the Latino community. Intersectionality as explained by Kimberle Crenshaw, recognizes that certain individuals face multiple and intersecting forms of structural discrimination. Classism is prejudice against or in favor of people belonging to a particular social class. The intersectionality of racism and classism in Latino population is evident in the huge disparity between white and nonwhite income levels of the middle-class. The median net worth for white middle-income families in 2016 was 3.4 times greater than Hispanic families. This means Latinos make increasingly less money than white middle-income earners. Although the U.S. will be majority nonwhite by 2043, it will take 84 years for an average Latino family to match the wealth of white families (Andrews, 2017). Lower income Latinos and lower educated Latinos are at higher disadvantage when compared to their wealthier and higher educated counterparts (NPR, 2017). As a social worker it is important to understand the reasons why the Latino community continues to face wage inequalities.

The intersectionality of racism is further explained by Critical Race Theory (CRT) which provides a critical analysis of race and racism from a legal perspective. According to CRT, racism is engrained in the fabric of the American society and the power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuate the oppression of people of color. CRT recognizes that race alone cannot account for disempowerment. White privileged society suggests that all people have equal opportunities and they can build their life with their own merit and hard work. CRT challenges this belief. The huge wealth and wage gaps between white and Latino communities are proof that the theory of meritocracy is false. CRT questions this ‘false truth’ by highlighting how racism and classism oppress the Latino community in America.

The Latino Critical Race Theory (LatCrit) is the sub division of CRT that addresses issues affecting the Latino community (UCLA, 2019). The wage disparity for women of color is even more shocking. Latino women earn the least of all, only bringing home 54 cents on the dollar. As a social worker it is important to understand the reasons why the Latino community continues to face wage inequalities. (1) Cost of higher education, education may improve a Latina’s earning prospects, but still gender, race and ethnicity can continue to affect wage imbalance. (2) Latino women not just care for their children but also other family members, unlike white women, who often care only their children. This results in more time off from work for Latinas. (3) Majority of Latinas work for service industry that pay low wages. (4) Pay secrecy prevents Latinas from comparing their salaries to others perpetuating wage gap. The wage equality gap is projected to close around the year 2152. That’s 136 years from now (Portee, 2017).

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Levels of Practice

A social worker is dedicated to social justice and the empowerment of marginalized population. At micro level, a social worker can help clients and their families by making them aware of laws that benefit them and strengthen their morale to fight injustice. Social worker can also help by referring them to services benefitting Latino community, for example Latino scholarships. Social workers can also help clients by providing individual counseling and family therapy. At mezzo level, social workers help clients in groups. A group of Latino clients facing common issues within their community related to jobs, schools, parks, churches can be helped by social workers with proper interventions. At macro level, major interventions are needed at a higher level. For example, changes to laws and policies must be made in order to help clients.

This often involves activism, lobbying, advocacy, and protests against wrongful policies. Macro practice empowers clients by involving them in systemic change. Social workers must demonstrate cultural humility by constantly educating themselves to learn and understand their clients' culture. They should never assume or project that they know everything about their clients' culture. They must understand how a clients’ race, age, marital status, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status etc. can affect their experience with racism. Anti-oppressive practice of social work focuses on ending socioeconomic oppression. The multidimensional racism that Latinos face in the form of inequal wages, needs a strong intervention to deliver welfare services that address the structural discriminations and oppressive practices in the community.

One of the social policies that would directly help fight wage gap in the Latino community is the H.R.7 Bill which is the ‘Paycheck Fairness Act’ that was introduced in Congress recently. The bill amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide more effective remedies to victims of discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex, and for other purposes. It is a social workers’ ethical responsibility to thoroughly understand such policies to help clients. As a social worker, I will work with my supervisors and colleagues to connect with the local and state level leaders for getting the ‘Paycheck Fairness Act’ passed. Apart from lobbying for policy changes, I will also raise awareness within the society. More people should know about the wage inequalities faced by Latinos.

Critical Self Reflection

Studying about the history of racism in the US with respect to African Americans, Native Americans, and Mexicans, has allowed me to understand the dynamics of racism and oppression and its deep impact on communities for hundreds of years. As a social worker it is crucial for me to understand how the web of institutional racism operates and affects the lives of my clients. This knowledge helps me remain non-judgmental. I chose the Latina population as topic of my study because I have worked with many low income, low educated Latino women. I find it extremely unfair that the Latinos are used by the society as cheap labor but are not respected enough. The movie ‘Latinos Beyond Reel’ also inspired me to write about them. I have held some stereotypes about Latinos. I believed Latinos are party loving people, unwilling to work hard. I also believed Latinos should try harder for higher education and better jobs. But I am thankful for my education that I have a better understanding of how Latinos have been systemically oppressed and marginalized for years.

As a student of social work, I am most influenced by the concept of 'Cultural humility'. Being a person of color, I understand I will be working with clients from diverse cultures with many differences in our beliefs. As a social worker, my clients’ well-being will always take precedence over my own beliefs and values. This is where cultural humility will play a crucial role. I realize how important it is for me to constantly educate myself to understand the cultural values of my clients. I am excited at the vast opportunities that lie ahead of me for working with clients from different backgrounds.

Working with Latino clients facing wage inequalities is a matter of social justice which is one of the core values of service under the principles of NASW code of ethics. As a social worker I will advocate for my clients to bring social justice. “Ethical Principle: Social workers challenge social injustice. Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers' social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information, services, and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision making for all people” (National Association of Social Workers [NASW], 2017, ethical principles). Also, section 1.05 of the ethical standards mandates social workers to have cultural awareness and understanding of social diversity. “Cultural Awareness and Social Diversity, (a) Social workers should understand culture and its function in human behavior and society, recognizing the strengths that exist in all cultures. (b) Social workers should have a knowledge base of their clients' cultures and be able to demonstrate competence in the provision of services that are sensitive to clients' cultures and to differences among people and cultural groups. (c)

Social workers should obtain education about and seek to understand the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, and mental or physical ability” (National Association of Social Workers [NASW], 2017, ethical standards). Wage gap is an issue that would need me to intervene on many levels as this is a systemic problem. The code of ethics guides and mandates me to take actions within its core principles.


Researching this topic allowed me to understand the Latino wage gap issue. In the process, I understood how history and race played critical role in various types of discrimination in the US. Wage gap is an issue faced not only by Latinos but also other non-whites. I realize the power I carry to influence my clients’ lives. Knowledge, skills, and experience would be my tools to make a difference and be an agent of change. Writing this paper was insightful and a great learning experience to understand the dynamics of racism. My fight for social justice will continue until wage inequality in the US is eliminated.


  1. Andrews, I. (2017). Racism and classism go hand in hand. Arizona Sonora News Service. Available online at:
  2. CNN Library. (2019). Hispanics in the US Fast Facts. CNN. Available online at:
  3. Mora, M. & Davila, A. (2018). The Hispanic–white wage gap has remained wide and relatively steady. Economic Policy Institute. Available online at:
  4. National Association of Social Workers. (2017). Code of ethics Of the National Association of Social Workers. Retrieved from on April 10, 2019.
  5. National Partnership for Women & Families, (2019). Quantifying America's Gender Wage Gap by Race/Ethnicity. Available at:
  6. NPR. (2017). Discrimination in America: Experiences and View of Latinos. Available online at:
  7. Portee, A. (2017). Here’s a Breakdown of the Caca Reasons Latinas Make 54 Cents on Her Male Counterpart’s Dollar. Fierce. Available online at:
  8. UCLA. (2019). What is Critical Race Theory? UCLA School of Public Affairs- Critical Race Studies. Retrieved on 03/23/2019 from:
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