An analysis of Census data by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) shows that the growth and youthfulness of the Hispanic population will play a big role in the nation's social and economic future, and that understanding how to address this growth will be critical for cities and states across the country. The NCLR report, Beyond the Census: Hispanics and an American Agenda, outlines a framework focused on strong neighborhoods and safe communities, good schools and educational excellence, opportunities to work and save, and quality health care that, if followed, can help guarantee a sound future in which all Americans will prosper.
"This analysis shows that the future of the nation is tied to the outcomes of its Hispanic communities. Now, one in eight Americans is of Hispanic origin, and Latinos are as likely to be found in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as they are in San Antonio, Texas," noted Raul Yzaguirre, NCLR President.
The Hispanic population grew by 53% from 1980 to 1990, and by 58% between 1990 and 2000 to reach 35 million people. As the report highlights, this growth occurred not only in typical states and cities like California and New York, but also in "non-traditional" areas, previously not home to significant Latino communities, including Wisconsin, other parts of the Midwest, and several states in the South. The Hispanic population doubled in Milwaukee between 1990 and 2000 and is now 12% of the city's population.
Data related to neighborhoods - one of the nation's cornerstones - confirm that Hispanics continue to reside in metropolitan areas, in part because these offer the best employment options. In addition, Latinos are especially likely to live in families. "Hispanic families are the bedrock of numerous communities across the country," observed Yzaguirre, "but the report indicates that these families tend to be isolated from other Americans and less likely than their neighbors to be homeowners."
Data compiled by NCLR show that, although the Hispanic population has increased in size and has dispersed nationwide, Hispanics were more segregated from Whites in 2000 than they were in 1990. In addition, Latinos are less likely than Whites to own their own home. Less than half (46%) of Hispanic households owned their own home in 1999, compared to almost three-quarters (72%) of non-Hispanic White households. Furthermore, a "homeownership" gap exists at all levels of the income spectrum. In fact, non-Hispanic White households with annual incomes of $15,000 or below were more likely to own their homes than Hispanic households with incomes of $45,000 or below.
"Latinos have helped to build solid neighborhoods in just about every corner of the country. But we can make these neighborhoods even stronger and safer if we expand the American dream of homeownership to Hispanic families and work to reduce segregated and isolated communities," advised Yzaguirre.
One of the report's central themes is the youthfulness of the Latino population. Half of Latinos are under 26 years old and more than one-third are under 18. As Yzaguirre stressed, "These data drive home the undisputed point that a large share of the nation's future economic growth will depend largely on the millions of Hispanic children in our nation's schools, and on the educational opportunities they are given today." The report shows that the playing field is not level for all American children, given that 36% of Latino three- and four-year-old children are enrolled in preschool, compared to 55% of their White and 60% of their African American peers. In addition, over the past two decades, the proportion of Latino students attending predominantly minority schools increased from more than two-thirds to three-quarters.
As the report argues, the quality of the education Latino children receive today will determine their future productivity - as well as the nation's economic competitiveness in 20 years. The current employment status of Hispanics underscores the urgency of ensuring that this generation of Hispanic students has access to good schools and educational excellence. "Latino men are more likely to be in the workforce than any other group of Americans. Yet our families make up a large share of the working poor because we continue to be in the lowest-paying jobs and we don't have many opportunities to move up the economic ladder, in part because of poor education. We owe it to these children and to our nation's future to change that," advised Yzaguirre.
Another finding tied to work shows that Latinos are less likely to report having money saved, in part because their earnings tend to be low. Exacerbating this is that Hispanics are the group of Americans most likely to lack health insurance. In 1999, two in five Hispanic adults in their prime working years did not have health insurance, compared to one in four African Americans and one in seven Whites.
As the report points out, the data are only one part of the story. Understanding what these numbers mean and responding to them are the other essential parts. "Why should Americans care about triple-digit growth of Hispanic communities in Nevada or Tennessee?" asked Yzaguirre. "Increasingly, Latinos are our neighbors, classmates, and co-workers. They are also taxpayers. So we have to make sure that America's principles of fairness, responsibility, and opportunity are within everyone's reach."
Yzaguirre continued, "Together these data tell us a story about our country's Hispanic population. They tell us that the issues that matter to all Americans are also the main priorities for Latino families. We want to own our homes and live in safe neighborhoods. We want an excellent education for our children. We want our hard work to be rewarded with enough income to support our families and secure our future. And we want our families to be healthy and to have access to health care," stated Yzaguirre.
The NCLR report presents this "American Agenda" as a roadmap to lead the country in the right direction. Yzaguirre added, "These are goals that would strengthen us as a nation and ensure a bright future for all of us. And there are four steps that national and state/local leaders can take right now to get us on our way."
Investments in education - Among other things, we need specific targeted efforts to ensure that Hispanic children have access to successful education programs such as Head Start.
Work and savings - At a time when America's economy depends heavily on worker productivity, we need increased support for workforce development initiatives, not cuts like those proposed by the Administration and the Congress. We should support and expand Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) and other efforts to help Americans save.
Health care - We should extend the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage to parents. In addition, we must restore benefits to legal immigrants and invest in the implementation of existing health and nutrition programs, eliminating language and immigration barriers so that Latinos have equal access.
Safe and strong communities - One of the keys to safe and strong neighborhoods is homeownership. We need to increase funding for housing counseling at the federal level, which has been proven to boost homeownership, and to make first-time homebuyer programs accessible to Latinos at the state level. In addition, to create safe neighborhoods we must also pass and enforce policies that end racial profiling and curb police abuse to restore trust between communities and law enforcement.
"The real story is not the data but, rather, the country's response to what these numbers mean for the people who live and work in this nation. The American Agenda sets the goals for everyone. With the right investments, the payoff can be great," concluded Yzaguirre.