Economic woes mean Latino vote no gimme for usual immigration platitudes

The recession left few communities untouched by layoffs, foreclosures and cuts to social services. But the Latino community has taken the hardest hits and faces the toughest road to recovery.

This is something that politicians may want to be aware of as they campaign for this crucial vote.

For some people living on the edge, it doesn't take much - a temporary illness that forces somebody off work, or a cut to a desperately needed social service - for a minor setback to mean a missed rent payment and an eviction notice.

This may sound like hyperbole, but it's the reality for the 13 percent of the population that lives below the poverty line, according to the US Census, and the many more that are near the boundary.

Latino families had the largest decline in wealth of any other group in the country, according to the Pew Research Center. In Illinois, a study by the Heartland Alliance found that 1/5th of the Latino population lives at or below the poverty line.

These economic hardships are a big deal in an election year. And it means that national leaders better not just focus on the oft-repeated platitude that Latino voters only care about immigration issues.

“This isn’t just simplistic, it’s insulting!” says Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum.

“The Latino ballot will not be blindly cast,” Puente continues in an op-ed for New America Media. “Locally or nationally, candidates wishing to win Latino support will be wise to engage this bloc in dialog on the bevy of other issues--education, healthcare, and the economy, among others--that are important to all voters.”

And the common thread in these issues, says Martin Macias, a youth organizer with Chicago Fair Trade, is “economic justice.”

“Looking at how policies are sucking funds out of our public services,” and how this affects the Latino community, will be an essential part of the group’s political outlook for the coming elections, said Macias.

In particular, budget cuts at the state level that have hit the Department of Human Services have cut funding to Latino organizations by 19% between fiscal 2009 and last year. On top of that, $16.6 million has been eliminated from child care funding, which has also hurt Latino families, found an analysis by the Latino Policy Forum.

This doesn’t, of course, mean that Latino voters no longer care about immigration issues, especially given the direct impact on jobs and wages of immigration policies.

But the sad reality is that the Latino electorate is joining the mainstream as it becomes larger, and more economically disadvantaged, and realizes it must also assess the economic direction of the country at election time - like everybody else.

And when looking at who to vote for, Macias says, what is most important for the Latino community, and all working communities around the city, is to avoid “economic disenfranchisement equaling political disenfranchisement.”

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