Education big in Latino poll
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 27, 2004

Elvia Díaz and Yvonne Wingett

Latinos don't seem to be losing much sleep over the war on terror that has polarized the nation. But they are worried about health care, jobs and college degrees.

That's the perspective of 1,000 Hispanics surveyed nationwide at the end of May by the New York-based Zogby International.

The poll will be released today in Phoenix, while tens of thousands Hispanics gather downtown and the national spotlight is on Latino USA's largest annual gathering.

Education topped the list of concerns. Thirty-four percent of those who responded said education is their most pressing issue. Twenty-two percent picked the economy and jobs as their top priorities. Immigration, civil rights and health care registered 8 percent or less, though still in the top five most important issues.

But only a small fraction, or 2 percent, said the war on terror matters most to them.

"The war on terror isn't even part of my vocabulary," said Claudia López, 22, of Glendale, who's convinced that obtaining a college degree will help her succeed here or anyplace else. "The 9/11 attacks were shocking but are not something I think about every day."

The findings left some Latino leaders with a bittersweet taste, scrambling for explanations and searching for solutions.

The poll reaffirms that the nation's largest minority group values education. But it doesn't hint to why many Latinos are dropping out of high school and why so many don't finish college, said Napoleon Pisaño of the Arizona Hispanic Community Forum, who also works for an outreach program at Arizona State University.

"You can point the finger to parents, students and teachers," Pisaño said. "We're all responsible."

Raul Yzaguirre, the outgoing president and chief executive officer of the National Council of La Raza, said the findings could help that group and others advocate for legislation and programs to deal with some of the concerns.

López, a Mexican immigrant, points to two things that could help her stay in college: legal residency status for her and a permanent job for her mother.

She will begin law school in the fall, but her future in Arizona remains uncertain because she does not have permanent residency.

Poor health care access

Although most of those polled were born in the United States, pollsters made a point to question those from Cuba, Puerto Rico and Spain, and Latinos from Central and South America. The margin of error of the poll is plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. The poll was commissioned by the National Council of La Raza, based in Washington, D.C.

Most Latinos, or 72 percent, said affordable health insurance is inaccessible. Most would be willing to pay more taxes to provide health insurance.

Paula Flores, a south Phoenix resident who suffers from asthma, is among those who believe medical insurance is too expensive. She racks up more than $4,000 in medical bills that eat away her yearly salary as a linen worker, she said.

"A lot of the Latin communities can't get it because the insurance premiums are too high," said Flores, 21, at a south Phoenix clinic that caters mostly to uninsured Hispanics.

"My job isn't sufficient to pay for insurance, pay what they take out (for) taxes, and put food on the table."

If Flores can't afford private medical insurance, how can she improve her situation? Vote for a presidential candidate who promises cheaper medication and better access to insurance, she said.

"If they have enough money to go to war, they should be able to help us with health care here in our own state," she said.

As of April 1, roughly 424,378 of the 940,000 enrolled in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System were Hispanics, said Frank Lopez, spokesman for the program, which provides health coverage to the poor.

Lydia Moreno, a volunteer for Wesley Community Center's Centro de Salud near 10th Street and Buckeye Road, helps uninsured Latinos find medical help.

"They have nowhere to go," she said. "When you have no documents, you get whatever job you can, low-paying with no insurance."

She believes government leaders should allocate more money for education, work to improve the economy and provide better access to health insurance.

"It's affecting all people, whether they're wealthy or poor, or middle class," said Moreno, 55, a pastor in northeast Phoenix.

"Some of the children are not getting quality education, being that they live in the barrio," she said. "Barrios get the cheapest education and the materials aren't there for them."

Mercedes Andaverde will vote for the next president based on who is willing to boost funding for education and improve access to health insurance.

"Saving Head Start is important. And health care is huge for me," said the uninsured Phoenix mom.

Just as the poll reflects, immigration issues are a lesser concern: "It's a big problem. If there was a better immigration policy, (immigrants) wouldn't have to die."

Housing ranking low

What puzzled some Arizona leaders is that only 1 percent of Latinos polled picked housing as important to them. While Latinos are seeking to buy a home now more than ever before, they are also being turned way, unable to qualify for mortgage loans, said Lydia Hernandez, family services director for Habitat for Humanity in Phoenix.

Hernandez said many factors could have led respondents to play down their concerns about housing needs, including how much their earn. Only 102 of those polled earn less than $15,000 a year.

Language skills didn't rank too high, either. That surprised Yzaguirre, the head of NCLR.

"There's been a perception, certainly in Washington," that it's necessary for candidates to speak Spanish, Yzaguirre told The Arizona Republic Thursday.

But "we've always said, bring substance. It ought to be about the message, not language."