DePauw alumni sheds light on Hispanic poverty

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Even since he began walking the halls of East College and Asbury Hall in 1999, Juan Pedroza has cared about the trend of Hispanic poverty in the United States. After graduating from DePauw in 2003, Pedroza dedicated his academic and professional lives to studying the reasons for, and implications of, this trend. On Monday, he returned to his alma mater to share his research with the students, faculty and community members of the institution which gave him a base on which to build his career.

While at DePauw, Pedroza majored in history and conflict studies. History professor Glen Kuecker, who introduced Pedroza before his presentation, said he was instrumental in the early years of the Russell J. Compton Center for Peace and Justice as a student. Pedroza even served as the director of the Compton Center as a fifth-year intern.

After graduation, he obtained a master’s degree from Indiana University. His next step was working as a researcher for the Urban Institute, where he studied the impact of migration rates on families and communities. He is now working at the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, and alongside Marybeth Mattingly, his colleague from that center and co-author on his dissertation, he is a PhD candidate at Stanford University.

The focus of his research, as well as the focus of his presentation at DePauw, was the trends of poverty in Hispanic communities as well as some explanations for those trends that his research has revealed. He posed the question to the captive audience, “Are these communities losing ground?”

The data he analyzed came from the 1980, 1990 and 2000 U.S. Censuses; for the most recent trends, he used the results of the 2010 American Community Survey instead of that year’s census data. He changed sources, he said, because unlike past censuses, the 2010 version did not ask respondents about their household income or country of origin, two factors that were key to his study, and the survey did provide that data.

“The sample size for the American Community Survey is much smaller than that of the census, which could have an influence on the data set,” Pedroza said. “But that was the only real challenge I encountered with the switch.”

Pedroza’s research overwhelmingly showed that Hispanic populations are more likely than their white counterparts to be living in poverty.

One facet of his research entailed trying to explain the gap between the poverty rates in white and Hispanic households in the U.S. He identified several factors, such as low education, lack of English proficiency, and large family, that made a person more likely to fall below the poverty line. His research indicates that if these limiting factors did not exist, the poverty rate in the Hispanic community in 2010 would have been over 10 percent lower than it was.

Of these influences, education, specifically having below a high school education, was the factor that contributed most significantly to Hispanic poverty. Responding to a question following his presentation, Pedroza said that promoting education would not be a cure-all for the problem, but it would certainly help.

Why did Pedroza choose to devote so much time and energy to studying Hispanic poverty, especially as it relates to immigrants? The national conversations around immigration were starting to take place while he was a student at DePauw, and the dialogue intrigued him. He was also curious as to how his Chicago neighborhood, which had a large population of immigrants like himself, had changed over time.

“I wanted to make sure the topic was being addressed, and it was done so in a way that was accurate to the immigrant experience,” Pedroza said.