The 2020 census points to a massive increase in diversity, which indicates a window of opportunity to serve a wider array of community members with specific needs.
The United States has become more diverse than ever before – and at a speed census experts failed to predict. In fact, the recently released 2020 census shows that minority populations accounted for all of the nation’s population growth within the last decade. As the largest ethnic segment within this group, the Spanish-speaking community made up over half of that increase.
Unfortunately, this population segment has been historically underrepresented in both the legal community and in the Census counts that these communities are dependent upon for government funding. According to UNICEF and the Hispanic Federation, less than 5% of Spanish-speaking refugees and asylum seekers are able to obtain legal representation upon arriving in the United States. On the whole, Spanish-speaking communities receive less federal funding than white communities and are prone to disparities in verticals other than the legal field, such as in healthcare, insurance, and education. These systemic issues the community faces can be traced back, at least partially, to inaccurate census counts.
For decades, the Spanish-speaking community has been grossly undercounted in the national census. Out of the 56.5 million Spanish speakers living in the United States, roughly 1/3rd live in hard-to-count census tracts. Moreover, many members of this community actively avoid participating in government programs such as the census due to fears of deportation or other legal consequences.
In particular, Spanish-speaking children are one of the least represented populations in this country. They’re five times more likely than white children to face a combination of high-risk factors that place children at a greater risk of failing academically. It’s estimated that over 400,000 children of Hispanic or Latino origin were not counted at all in the 2010 census. The 2020 number for undercounted Hispanic and Latino youth is estimated by The Count All Kids Committee to be over 800,000. This has real and unfortunate implications on federal funding for schools, aid programs, and communities in need.
Despite this huge lack of representation, the Hispanic/Latino community drove over 51% of population growth over the last decade. So, what is creating this disconnect, and how can the legal community help solve the problem?
What is Contributing to the Disconnect?
The United States is home to more Spanish speakers than any other country in the world, aside from Mexico. The Spanish-speaking population is the nation’s fastest-growing market segment and is projected to continue growing for decades to come.
However, this growing community faces some pretty substantial disparities. For instance, the majority of underinsured or completely uninsured individuals are Hispanic, even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s also important to remember that these communities were more severely affected by the pandemic due to the nature of the labor markets they dominate (service, hospitality, healthcare, etc.).
On top of holding occupations that put them at a higher risk than others, unemployment rates among the Spanish-speaking population were nearly double that of the white population during the pandemic. Although the Affordable Care Act helps people who lose their employment insurance, some of these options are not readily accessible to every family – particularly ones with ongoing immigration issues.
While these disparities are crippling to families experiencing them, they don’t explain the census undercounts. Rather, they are the product of continued underrepresentation in the Spanish-speaking community. There are a multitude of factors that make the Spanish-speaking community hard to count as far as the census is concerned.
Here are a few of the top factors to consider:
Language barriers: About 31% of Hispanic and Latino community members living in the United States identify as speaking English “less than very well.”
Wealth displacement: The Hispanic and Latino community experiences poverty at a 21% rate, much higher than the national average of 13%. It’s commonly theorized that impoverished households are particularly difficult to count in the census.
Education: Over 60% of Hispanic adults only have a high school level education, or have never completed high school. Areas with overall lower education levels tend to be underrepresented in the annual census, as well.
Immigration status: 34% of Spanish-speaking community members were born in a different country. Due to recent political rhetoric, many people who make up this population are less likely to participate in government programs like the census – fearing legal or government repercussions.
All of these challenges make it incredibly difficult to count the Spanish-speaking community accurately, which leads to massive underrepresentation and a lack of funding for pivotal resources such as education and infrastructure.
A Lawyer’s Responsibility to Serve the Underserved
Lawyers specializing in practice areas such as insurance, personal injury, employment, bankruptcy, immigration and even property law have a significant opportunity to do good in their communities by expanding their services to this population. However, there exists the ever-present issue of finding effective ways to reach out to Spanish speakers on a meaningful level, especially if most lawyers themselves don’t speak Spanish. The language barrier doesn’t make things impossible however. With technology and intake services designed to help facilitate communication between attorney and client, lawyers can confidently move forward in serving this community and conducting outreach through bilingual strategies.
Regarding the approach to reach this community, there is no “one size fits all” solution in regards to the Spanish-speaking community. This is because there is no “one size fits all” characterization for the Spanish-speaking demographic in general. For example, Spanish speakers in Los Angeles will differ significantly both in culture and custom from Spanish speakers in New York City. Law firms need to understand and acknowledge the cultural nuances of their various demographics in order to speak to them in a more authentic voice that will garner trust.
Too many law firms fall short in their bilingual marketing strategy when trying to communicate to segments they aren’t used to working with. However, there are solutions such as working with a bilingual digital marketing firm that facilitates a more holistic approach to communicating with and serving clients in the Spanish-speaking community. Regardless of the approach taken, law firms would behoove themselves by opening their doors to this population, especially given the meteoric growth seen in this community over the last decade.
The 2020 census points to a massive increase in diversity, which indicates a window of opportunity to serve a wider array of community members with specific needs – particularly in verticals with a historic lack of Hispanic and Latino representation like law.
The growth of the Spanish-speaking population shows no sign of stopping; in order to maintain relevance and reach the largest amount of potential clients, law firms need to hone in on the takeaways from the 2020 census and adjust their growth strategies accordingly.