This past week I spoke on the Julie Stav Show, a nationally syndicated, Spanish, talk-radio program about financial matters; attended a western regional conference focused on STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) with educators and legislators, and hosted and was a panelist at the preview showing of the upcoming CNN special, “Latino in America,” which airs October 21st and 22nd. At these various events, I have raised several key points, some of which are in the book I co-edited, Latino Cultural Citizenship.
First, Latinos have come to America for the same reason that others have-- to create a better life for their families. We are Americans, but we also have the strong desire to retain our ethnic heritage and identity. Most of us speak English as our main language of communication, even so, we want to retain Spanish and encourage our children to learn Spanish.
Latinos are transforming America, just as they are transformed by it. That is the central thesis of Latino Cultural Citizenship, the notion that as Latinos claim space and rights, they also define themselves. How the country as a whole comes to grips with the growing Latino population is vital to the future of America. How so?
Currently, there are 46 million Latinos in the U.S. One out of every two new births in this country is Latino. That number will grow significantly by 2050. But, if Latinos continue to be under educated with high dropout rates and with lower college attendance rates and lower college graduation rates, it will cost this country billions of dollars.
A Pew poll found that 80% of Latino youth feel that college is important but only half feel they will ever attend college. According to U.S. census data, in 2006 of 100 Latino 9th graders, 53 will graduate from high school, 27 will enter college right after high school, and only 10 will graduate from college within six years of entering college. Ten out of 100!
According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, if the U.S. does not close the achievement gap of Latinos and African Americans, by 2020, it will cost the U.S. about $805 billion in lost revenues, taxes, productivity and income. By 2030, that number could grow to $1 trillion!
A recent study of U.S. workers in the global economy projects that by 2020, the U.S. will lack 15 million skilled workers, most of them in the STEM and high-knowledge areas, but also in health care and education. By 2030, the shortfall could reach 35 million. The Committee for Economic Development projects a decline of .29 percentage points a year, affecting incomes and Gross National Product, unless we increase college graduates, particularly in STEM fields.
The Latino population in this country is younger than the whites, Latinos currently account for 13 percent of the labor force. By 2020, Latinos will represent one-of-every six workers in America and one-fourth of new college applicants. By 2050, Latinos will account for one of every four workers in America and could represent one-of-every three students in college.
The future of America is bound up with the future of Latinos in America. So, we must increase the number of Latinos graduating from high school and going on to receive a college education. We have to address this issue. The future is here.
[By the way, 53% of those responded to our poll felt that the main obstacle to Latino success remains economic barriers and discrimination.]