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."

But taking the percentage of people in the workforce to prove "work ethic," is probably not the best way of measuring work "ethic" according to Latino Decisions pollster Matt Barreto. There are a number of reasons that an individual might not enter into the workforce, including the choice to be a stay-at-home mother and the inability to find a job, among others.

On another measure of work ethic, however, Latinos do consistently show a commitment to self-reliance. Three-quarters of Latinos say that most people can get ahead if they are willing to work hard, while 58% of the general public said the same, according to a 2011 Pew study. And more than 70 percent of Hispanics think that minorities should be self-reliant, the highest of any ethnic group, according to 2004 National Politics Survey.

Pew studies also contradict Murray's conclusion (and Coulter's point) that Hispanics don't go to church at as high of rates as whites. A 2007 Pew Hispanic Center study on the same topic indicates that 44 percent of Hispanics go to church weekly, while only 40 percent of non-Hispanics go to church.

Murray responded that the difference in the Pew data and his own reading of GSS data was small enough to be a "rounding error" and says the Pew study only reinforces the argument he was trying to make in the first place.

"My point is that Hispanics look a whole lot like other people," he said. "They are not more conspicuously religious."

The political scientist says that his intent was to demonstrate to the part of the right wing of his party that Hispanics are not exceptionally socially conservative, and that they won't help the party to win on social issues in the future. Rather, he says, the Republican party must become more progressive about issues like gay marriage and abortion in order to win future elections. Murray also wanted to clarify that, "what [he] said and what Ann Coulter is using [the data for] are two very different things."

Still, Murray's shaky statistical conclusions about Hispanic work ethic and faith have served as fodder for Coulter to miscategorize the Hispanic community, as Bill O'Reilly did just a few weeks ago when he said that Latinos feel "entitled to stuff."

Last week, the conservative Latino group Cafe Con Leche demanded an apology from Coulter, and noted that the tone of her column is exactly why Latinos didn't go Romney's way.

"The real reason why Republicans did so poorly among Latinos is due to manipulation by anti-immigrant groups, and shrill rhetoric by [Ann Coulter] and a small minority of Republican politicians which provides ample ammunition for liberals to frame the Republican Party as anti-Latino and anti-immigrant," the group said in a press statement." The Republican Party is neither anti-Latino or anti-immigrant."

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