Analysis: Debunking the Lazy Latino Myth

PHOTO: Conservative commentator Ann Coulter cited public intellectual Charles Murray in her attack on Latino voters last week.

Last week, conservative commentator Ann Coulter cited a prominent libertarian thinker Charles Murray to lend statistical teeth to a vicious attack against Latinos. She argued that it's a waste of time for the GOP to court Hispanic voters, because they are lazy, not religious, dependent on government, socially progressive, and poor.

Coulter's post, which has been called bigoted by some in her party, is less likely to be taken as seriously as the statistics she cites, which were presented by Murray a few weeks earlier in a blog post.

In that post, called "The GOP shouldn't count on tapping latent Latino conservatism," he says that Hispanics aren't natural conservatives because they tend to be progressive on social issues. This notion is pretty widely accepted by many who study and poll the Latino community, and not all that controversial.

The issue arose when Coulter summarized Murray's suggestion that Hispanics are not as hard-working or as devout as non-Hispanics -- both points that are contradicted by recent Census and Pew Data.

Coulter wrote: "Charles Murray recently pointed out that -- contrary to stereotype -- Hispanics are less likely to be married, less likely to go to church, more supportive of gay marriage and less likely to call themselves "conservative" than other Americans. Rather than being more hardworking than Americans, Hispanics actually work about the same as others, or, in the case of Hispanic women, less. It seems otherwise, Murray says, because the only Hispanics we see are the ones who are working — in our homes, neighborhoods and businesses. 'That's the way that almost all Anglos in the political chattering class come in contact with Latinos,' he notes. 'Of course they look like model Americans.'"

Murray, who also authored a controverisal book called The Bell Curve, suggests in his blog post that there is a "selection bias" for white people encountering only hard-working Hispanics. In other words, the implication is that somewhere out there in the ethnic jungle exists a secret class of lazier Latinos that white people have just never met before. The idea is not only a bit comical, it doesn't seem to be backed up by facts.

The political scientist used a slim percentage of the workforce, ages 30-49, to come to this conclusion. Pew Hispanic Center's associate director Mark Hugo Lopez says that if we take a look at all U.S. residents 16 and older, Hispanic men are actually much more likely to participate in the workforce than whites (77 percent of Hispanics versus 71 percent of whites in 2011) and Hispanics overall as well (67 percent of Hispanics vs. 64 percent of whites in 2011).

"That's a 6 percentage point difference [for men]-- that's a significant gap," he said.

Lopez also noted that sometimes statisticians restrict labor force data to 30-49 to account for retirement and student communities. However, the median age of Latinos in the U.S. is 27, while the median age of whites is 42, meaning that Murray is neglecting one of the largest segments of working Hispanics in his estimate. It is true that Latinas do lag the population in the work force by two percentage points. The Department of Labor suggests this disparity has to do with different cultural gender norms in Latin America.

Lopez says all numbers point to the fact that "the labor force participation rate of Latinos has been higher than other groups."

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