Political Science Now

Experiencing Inequality but Not Seeing Class: An Examination of Latino Political Attitudes

Chapter 10: Experiencing Inequality but Not Seeing Class: An Examination of Latino Political Attitudes 

Michael Jones-Correa, University of Pennsylvania
Sophia Jordán Wallace, University of Washington  

“In essence, the difference between class and classconsciousness is not only theoretically important but also methodologically distinguishable.”

Since the 1970s, inequality in the United States has increased dramatically, with income and wealth gaps widening and reaching their highest levels since the Great Depression (Atkinson, Picketty, and Saez 2011; Congressional Budget Office 2011; Kopczuk and Saez 2004; Picketty and Saez 2003; Pierson 2016). The findings in this research clearly indicate significant disparities among racial and ethnic groups. Furthermore, within given racial and ethnic groups, there can be substantial differences in inequality, for example, among Asian Americans ( Junn and Lee 2016). This chapter focuses on Latinos in the United States, who at 17% of the national population comprise the largest racial and ethnic minority group (US Census 2015). As this population continues to grow, Latinos are already or soon will be the majority ethnic group in some states. Levels of inequality between Latinos and other groups, particularly whites, are considerable, with Latinos the racial or ethnic group most negatively affected by the Great Recession of 2008 (Pew Research Center 2014). Thus, while the widening gap in wealth and income is apparent across all groups, since 2007 has increased disproportionately between Latinos and other Americans. Given this group’s relative size, the potential consequences of this continued inequality for broader US society are substantial. While Latinos and inequality has not gone unstudied, it has received little attention in political science. Studies exist examining Latinos’ unequal access to health care and its consequences (Sanchez and Medeiros 2012; Sanchez, Medeiros, and Sanchez-Youngmann 2012) and their uneven political representation (Casellas 2010; Hero and Preuhs 2014; Rouse 2013; Wallace 2014) but there are remarkably few about the effects of economic inequality and its political consequences for Latinos. We argue that it is critical to more comprehensively examine Latino inequality given its depth and breadth across many dimensions of social, political, and economic life for this group, including wealth and class, health, the criminal justice system, education, and political representation.