The Washington Post
December 9, 1999
Survey Portrays Hispanic Poverty
In Alexandria, A Stark Picture Of Growing Group

                  By Leef Smith
                  Washington Post Staff Writer
                  Thursday, December 9, 1999; Page V01

                  Alexandria's Hispanic population is growing and includes more immigrants
                  from Central American countries than ever before. The population
                  struggles with English and is relatively poor, and the majority of adults have
                  limited education, according to the results of a survey of the city's Hispanic
                  residents released last week.

                  The survey, conducted from 1998 to 1999 by nonprofit groups led by the
                  Alexandria United Way and in conjunction with community organizations,
                  local government and private citizens, is intended to give local agencies and
                  policymakers current information about the changing Hispanic community.

                  The goal of the effort, which took three years to conceptualize and
                  complete and included interviews with nearly 500 residents, was to update
                  a survey done 10 years earlier, and by doing so, help service providers
                  and planners increase outreach opportunities and improve programs and
                  services, officials said.

                  "We wanted to see where immigrants were coming from and what the
                  population looked like to better understand the Alexandria community,"
                  said Patrice Linehan, a volunteer with United Way and research
                  coordinator for the survey. "We didn't want to know just about the needs,
                  we also wanted to know more about the people."

                  Alexandria's population, according to census data, is 60 percent white, 22
                  percent black, 12 percent Hispanic and 4 percent Asian. The Hispanic
                  population has grown dramatically since 1980, when census figures
                  showed that Hispanics made up only 4 percent of the city's population.

                  The population of school-age Hispanic children has grown even more
                  rapidly--from 4 percent in 1980 to 23 percent today. The city's Hispanic
                  community is largely concentrated in the West End and Arlandria.

                  While the majority of those who completed the survey--about 64
                  percent--said they had not completed high school, adults placed a high
                  priority on their children's education and said they expected their children
                  to finish high school, and 67 percent said they expected their children to
                  attend a four-year college.

                  Among Alexandria's new Hispanic residents are families that come from
                  Central and South America--particularly El Salvador--according to the
                  survey, which shows that the new immigrants are mostly young adults with
                  elementary school age children. Most come to the United States with no
                  more than eight years of schooling, cannot understand English and have
                  few job skills.

                  Officials said the language barrier and lack of job training make it hard for
                  many immigrants to find employment. According to the study, the
                  per-capita income of Alexandria's Hispanic community is $7,306, and
                  nearly half of those residents go without health insurance for themselves
                  and their families.

                  "We have confirmed what we long felt, that Alexandria's Hispanic
                  population is poorer than we really imagined," said Howard Spiegelman,
                  chairman of the assessment study committee and director of community
                  resources for Alexandria schools. "The level of poverty all around was

                  Language proficiency--both English and Spanish--surfaced as a major
                  problem for the city's Hispanic residents, the vast majority of whom said
                  they needed help speaking, reading or writing English. In addition, 28
                  percent said someone in their household needed help reading their native
                  Spanish, and 25 percent said help was needed with writing it.

                  "It's becoming very evident to us in the school system and the city how
                  many parents are illiterate in their own language," Spiegelman said, adding
                  that the schools will sometimes send information, written in Spanish, home
                  to parents who can't read it. In turn, the parents can't help their children
                  learn to read or write in Spanish or English. "Often the children help the

                  The survey data, officials said, depict a community in need of special
                  services, and those services are not reaching enough people.

                  The survey found that English as a Second Language classes were used by
                  43 percent of the households that need help reading, writing or speaking
                  English. Services to help find medical care were used by 22 percent.

                  However, 30 to 36 percent of households reported needing, but not using,
                  ESL classes, other education classes, job training or employment services,
                  information on public benefits and services to help find health care.

                  Asked why they didn't take advantage of such services, 36 percent said
                  they didn't know where to find help; 30 percent said they had no
                  transportation; and 27 percent said they had no child care.

                  While the overall population of Alexandria had a median household income
                  of $61,408 in 1996, the survey found that the median Hispanic household
                  income was $30,000. At the time of the survey, the unemployment rate for
                  all city residents was 2.1 percent, while the unemployment rate for
                  Hispanics surveyed was 12 percent. Of those who were employed, 66
                  percent held full-time jobs.

                  Asked why members of their households were out of work, 36 percent
                  said they couldn't find child care. Others cited age or disability, lack of job
                  skills, inability to speak English or no work permit or transportation.

                  Of those who completed the survey, 60 percent of the households
                  reported receiving assistance from federal or state programs for
                  low-income residents. Forty-four percent of respondents said their children
                  received subsidized school lunches.

                  Ricardo Drumond, a Latin American affairs specialist for Alexandria's
                  Department of Human Services, worked on both the 1989 survey and this
                  latest effort, which he said was done to educate the community, citizens
                  and policymakers alike.

                  "One of the goals when we worked on the survey was not to editorialize,
                  Drumond said. "We wanted to present something that was unbiased, so
                  people could draw their own conclusions."

                           © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company