Data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau about the nation's Hispanic population underscore the need for President Bush and the Congress to make the right choices about the nation's budget priorities, especially with respect to children and education.
According to the report, more than one-third (35.7%) of Latinos are under 18 years of age. Other data show that they represent the second largest group of students in the nation's schools. However, Latino children are underrepresented in Head Start, early childhood development programs, after-school programs, and rigorous academic courses. Taken together, this suggests that President Bush's recent calls for tax cuts should be balanced with investments in the nation's education of its children. If we equip Latino and all children with high quality education and ensure their well-being, we will have a tremendous pool of talent ready to lead the nation forward and every American will benefit.
Educational investments are especially important because Census data show that educational disparities between Latinos and other Americans continue to be striking, especially at a time when employers and the economy demand workers with high skill levels. In 2000, 57% of Hispanics 25 years old and over had graduated from high school, compared to 88% of non-Hispanic Whites in the same age category. More than one-quarter (27.3%) of Hispanics had less than a ninth-grade education; in contrast, only 4.2% of non-Hispanic Whites were at this education level. Only one in ten Hispanics (10.6%),
compared to almost three in ten non-Hispanic Whites (28.1%) had a college degree. As a nation, we have the resources to close these gaps. We know what works and we can do better. The National Council of La Raza believes we must do better, especially since, in about 20 years, one in four children in the United States will be Hispanic. A large share of our
nation's future economic growth will depend on the millions of Hispanic children in our school system, on the opportunities we give them, and on the priorities we set for ourselves today.
The data also show that the poverty rate for Hispanic children is more than three times that of non-Hispanic White children. What does it say about the nation's priorities when we count our federal economic surpluses in the trillions of dollars, yet 30% of Hispanic children are poor? Research shows that high poverty levels and low educational attainment go
hand-in-hand, so our commitment to education must be coupled with a focus on initiatives to help poor children.
Many of these children live in families that work full-time, year-round, but their parents do not earn enough income to qualify for the child credit that President Bush has called for in his tax plan. It would be to everyone's advantage if the President made this tax credit refundable and available to the working poor.
In addition, the Congress should expand the nation's most effective anti-poverty program, the Earned Income Tax Credit.
These steps would help Hispanic families and their children move up the economic ladder, and allow them to use their refunds for their own educational investments, such as establishing a college fund.
The Census report also highlighted other important pieces of data on the nation's 32.8 million Hispanics. For example:
Hispanic men are more likely than non-Hispanic White men to be working or looking for work. In 2000, the labor force participation rate of Hispanic men was 80.4%, compared to 74.3% for non-Hispanic White men.
Hispanic women have steadily increased their presence in the work force over the past several years and their labor force participation rate now approaches that of non-Hispanic White women, 56.6% and 60.8%, respectively.
Despite their strong levels of workforce activity, Hispanics were more likely than non-Hispanics to work in low-paying jobs. In 2000, almost one in five (19.4%) Latino workers, but about one in nine non-Hispanic White workers (11.8%), was employed in a "service" occupation, which includes food preparation, personal service, and maintenance jobs.
Conversely, Hispanics are less likely than non-Hispanic Whites to work in high-paying managerial and professional specialty occupations. In 2000, 14% of Hispanics were in managerial or professional occupations, compared with 33% of non-Hispanic Whites. Among Latino groups, Mexican Americans - the largest subgroup of the U.S. Hispanic population - were the least likely to work in managerial or professional occupations (12%). These jobs are especially likely to offer critical benefits, like health insurance and pension coverage.
Occupational distribution by gender shows that Hispanic men are especially likely to be represented in precision production or technical/sales jobs, and Hispanic women are particularly likely to be employed in technical/sales jobs. However, 18% of Hispanic women were in managerial or professional occupations, compared to 11% of Hispanic men.
Given the types of jobs that Hispanics tend to have, it is not surprising that non-Hispanic Whites were three times more likely than Hispanics (27.4% vs. 9.6%) to report earnings of $50,000 or more in 1999, for those who worked year-round, full-time. Among Hispanic subgroups, Cubans were the most likely to report such earnings (17.9%). Overall, two
in three Hispanics (68.7%), compared to two in five non-Hispanic Whites (40.3%), reported earnings of less than $30,000 in 1999.
Hispanic families are more likely to be poor than non-Hispanic families. In particular, Latino married-couple families are more than four times as likely as non-Hispanic White families to be living in poverty (14.2% vs. 3.3%). Among Hispanic families, those headed by women alone are twice as likely as comparable White families to be poor (38.8% vs. 18.6%). In addition, Latino subgroup data show that Puerto Rican children on the mainland are the most likely to be poor (37.2%).
The Census report is not just about what is happening now. It also begins to tell us a story about the future workers and taxpayers of this country. One in eight Americans is Hispanic and Latino children are among America's most precious resources. If we improve their educational outcomes and overall well-being, we are not only addressing issues important to the Latino community - we are laying a cornerstone of the nation's future economic prosperity.