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Molly Moorhead
By Molly Moorhead June 8, 2012

Romney ad says more Hispanics are in poverty since Obama took office

In a new Web ad, the Romney campaign questions how Hispanics in the U.S. have fared under President Barack Obama.

The ad, titled "Dismal," flashes shadowy faces of Latinos along with text citing rising unemployment and poverty rates in that minority group. The statistics are bookended by clips from Obama’s own Spanish-language ads that say the country is moving in the right direction.

"Really?" the ad asks.

We decided to take a look at one of those statistical claims, specifically that "more Hispanics have fallen into poverty under Obama."

As evidence, the ad cites U.S. Census Bureau figures, which show that poverty has been on the rise. In 2008, the census says, there were about 47.4 million Hispanics in the U.S. Almost 11 million, or 23.2 percent were impoverished.

In 2009, 48.8 million Hispanics were living in the U.S., with more than 12 million in poverty. That marked a 2.1 percent increase in the poverty rate. And in 2010, it ticked up another 1.3 percent.

All told, through 2010, 2.25 million more Hispanics are living in poverty than when Obama took office. So the numbers back up the point.

But it's important to explore how much the Hispanic poverty rate can be blamed on Obama's policies. When rating claims such as this, PolitiFact weighs not only whether the claim is numerically correct but also whether it’s accurate to assign blame to the target of the ad.

First, we should note that poverty across all groups was up in these years. The nation’s official poverty rate went from 14.3 percent in 2009 to 15.1 percent in 2010. So Hispanics weren’t alone, but they were harder hit.

"Poverty increased for pretty much every demographic group in the country. There are more poor whites, blacks and Hispanics," said Madeline Zavodny, a professor of economics at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, and a research fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

But Hispanics felt the impact more.

"They are especially vulnerable to downturns. They are more likely to work in cyclical industries, like construction and manufacturing, than other demographic groups. Construction in particular was hit hard this downturn, and Hispanics bore the brunt of that," Zavodny said.

Sheldon Danziger, director of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, said it's off-base to pin the blame on Obama.

"It’s not like anything Obama did was anti-Hispanic," Danziger said. "It’s because of the collapse of construction."

Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, pointed to the original trigger for the recession: the housing bubble. When the economy was growing, largely on the expanding housing market, many Hispanics were able to buy their own homes. That tied up their wealth, which tends to be less diversified than non-Hispanics who invest more widely in stocks and 401(k) funds, Lopez said. So when the bubble burst and housing values fell, many Hispanics saw their household wealth evaporate.

Gary Burtless from the centrist Brookings Institution added that the Hispanic population is younger as a whole than other groups, "and younger adults have suffered badly -- in the job market and as new homeowners who may be under water as a result of declining house prices."

(As we’ve noted before, Burtless contributed $750 to Obama’s campaign in 2011. However, in 2008 he provided advice on aspects of labor policy to the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and he has worked as a government economist and served on federal advisory panels under presidents of both parties.)

We also talked to Leticia Miranda, senior policy adviser for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group. She said unemployment is the single biggest driver of poverty and Hispanics are particularly vulnerable.

She said that some policies have had a direct impact on Hispanics, such as the 1996 welfare reform bill, which imposed a five-year ban on use of public assistance including Medicaid, food stamps and welfare cash payments by legal immigrants.

But she said Obama has made some positive strides to benefit Hispanics. Under Obama, the Department of Labor has put a greater focus on low-wage workers as well as on wage theft -- essentially workers not getting paid for their labor -- which tends to afflict immigrant workers, Miranda said.

Finally, each of the experts we interviewed mentioned the economic stimulus package Obama signed in 2009 as a barrier that kept poverty from ballooning even more.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, determined that direct income assistance from the stimulus kept 2 million additional Hispanics from falling below the poverty line. Author Arloc Sherman found that 500,000 Hispanics benefitted from the temporary Making Work Pay tax credit, more than 600,000 from temporary improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit and other tax credits for low-income working families, and more than 600,000 Latino Americans kept out of poverty through 2009 and 2010 extensions of stronger unemployment insurance championed by the president.

Miranda called those "big positives for low-wage workers."

Our ruling

Romney’s ad correctly states that more Hispanics in the U.S. have fallen below the poverty line since Obama took office: 2.25 million more people through 2010, according to the census.

But the ad’s clear message is that it’s Obama’s fault but experts say it's a much more complicated picture than that. We rate the statement Half True.

Our Sources, campaign ad "Dismal," June 5, 2012

U.S Census, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010," Table 4, page 15 of the pdf

U.S. Census, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009," Table 5, page 15 of the pdf

Email interview with Madeline Zavodny, professor of economics at Agnes Scott College and a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, June 5, 2012

Interview with Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew Hispanic Center, June 6, 2012

Interview with Leticia Miranda, National Council of La Raza, June 6, 2012

Interview with Sheldon Danziger, director of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, June 6, 2012

Email interview with Gary Burtless, Brookings Institution, June 7, 2012

Congressional Budget Office, "Estimated Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Employment and Economic Output From April 2010 Through June 2010"

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "Poverty and Financial Distress would have been substantially worse in 2010 without Government Action, New Census Data Show," Nov. 7, 2011

PolitiFact, "A scorecard on the economy under Barack Obama," June 1, 2012

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Romney ad says more Hispanics are in poverty since Obama took office

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