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Latinos' Improving Finances May Swing Key States

Robert Alexander | Archive Photos | Getty Images

A third of Latinos say their finances are in "excellent" or "good" shape, an improvement of more than a third more than last year, according to a Pew Research Center study.

Their ebullience about finances seemed to translate into optimism about the United States in general. More than half of Hispanics surveyed in September and early October said they are satisfied with the direction of the country, compared with 31 percent of the general public.

The study says a lot about the uneven nature of the recovery, which is being felt strongly among one of the nation's hardest-hit minority populations. It may say even more about the outcome the election on Tuesday.

If President Barack Obama hangs onto his lead in Nevada and New Mexico on Election Day and pulls off wins in nearly evenly split Florida and Colorado, his victories will be owed in great part to the strength of his support from Latino voters — despite Obama's failure to address immigration reform in the past four years, a cause that drives many Latinos' interest in national elections.

Nationwide, the president may do better among Latinos, now polling in his favor at 70 percent to 22 percent for GOP challenger Mitt Romney, than Obama did when elected four years ago, with 67 percent of the Hispanic vote. Those numbers have improved after Latinos showed relatively tepid feelings for the president earlier this year. (Read More: Romney Chases Hispanics With Immigration Pledge)

But if Hispanics are happy with Obama's America, they will still expect plenty from the administration if they do boost the president into a second term. Increasingly spread across all 50 states but still heavily concentrated in the southwest, the Latino community felt that region's housing crash deeply.

According to Pew, median household wealth fell by 58 percent between 2005 and 2010. And while poverty has declined by a full percentage point among Hispanics from 2010 to 2011, the recession saw Latino children pass white or black children in sheer numbers of poor. (Read More: How Immigrants Are Changing U.S. Businesses)

The last statistic is not surprising, given the historic poverty rates among Latinos, but it's also partly the effect of the rapid growth of Latinos as a percentage of the U.S. population — an effect that may well give Obama the advantage he needs in crucial states come Tuesday.

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