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Post-Pandemic Future

Latinos are the bridge to a post-pandemic future, as well as a post-pandemic economy (November 2022)

U.S. Latinos account for the fastest-growing portion of US GDP. So much so, that if we considered Latinos as their own country, it would be third only to the GDP growth rate of China and India in the past decade. Latinos continue to play a crucial role in the U.S. economy and currently account for a $1 trillion market, despite being challenged by lower-paying jobs, less education, and the bias they face. Latinos make just 73 cents for every dollar earned by White Americans. They face discrimination when it comes to securing financing to start and scale businesses. Latinos struggle with access to food, housing, and other essentials. And their level of household wealth — which directly affects their ability to accumulate and pass on wealth from generation to generation — is just one-fifth that of White Americans. Furthermore, both COVID-19 and high inflation have had a disproportionate impact on Latino lives and livelihoods.

Across the country, districts with the most students of color on average receive substantially less (16%) state and local revenue than districts with the fewest students of color, and high-poverty districts receive 5% less state and local revenue than low-poverty districts. The districts with the most English learners receive 14% less state and local revenue, compared with districts with the fewest English learners. The lack of adequate funding in schools that serve high percentages of students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, and English learners can prevent school communities from investing in proven solutions, such as extended learning time and targeted intensive tutoring, to help better student outcomes. Furthermore, teacher turnover, which is higher in under-resourced schools, prevents students from building strong relationships with teachers, which is also shown to improve student outcomes.

These are but the latest indicators of inequity in how how Latinos are disproportionately pumping more value into the U.S. economy, yet are continually short-changed when it comes to adequate funding and support for education. 

This is at a time that the recently released 2022 Census statistics revealed two converging facts about the U.S. population: It is aging, and, simultaneously, becoming increasing racially and ethnically diverse. Additionally, we learned that Latinos working frontline jobs is what powered the U.S. economy during the peak of the pandemic. Latinos were ill-prepared for their battle against the coronavirus and thus were among the worst hit by the crisis because our communities are among the least able to access the healthcare systems and unemployment benefits.  Economic disparities go hand in hand with health vulnerabilities. The poorest people always pay the highest cost.

One puzzle piece of the Latino educational crisis makes it more urgent than ever to understand the barriers and role Latinos play in the U.S. and to undertake far-reaching interventions that promote equitable advancement and opportunity. That is, structural and practical economic interventions (such as better compensation and reskilling for workers, increasing access to capital, and financial inclusion) would not only support Latinos to consolidate their economic significance in the United States — closing the gaps, but hold massive gains for society as a whole.

A second puzzle piece of the Latino educational crisis is fair access to resources, such as strong teachers with diverse backgrounds who provide engaging, culturally relevant, and standards-aligned instruction; rigorous coursework that will set students up for success in college and careers; and school environments that are physically safe and emotionally supportive. That is, if leaders truly want to achieve equity, they must quickly realize that equal funding across school districts is not good enough. Our nation’s students who need more, deserve more!

The pandemic laid bare many inequities, as it also showed the benefits of education. Highly educated workers were much more likely to work from home and less likely to have lost their jobs. Latinos have the lowest educational-attainment levels of any race or ethnicity in the U.S.; they were also the least likely to telecommute, and many risked their health and that of their families by continuing to work on-site.

Education is of economic imperative, and the Civil Rights issue of our generation; it’s a right not a privilege. 

For the purpose of broader context: the competitive strength of the U.S. in a global economy depends, and will continue to depend to a large extent, on the positive educational outcomes of Latino students at all levels.

As we represent a significant portion of this country's future strength, we must achieve a dramatic and powerful change in our communities. For the U.S. to create a positive future it will require a Latino citizenry that is:

  • Equipped to compete in a global economy;
  • Part of a literate and well-educated labor and consumer base;
  • A pool of linguistic and cultural talent that would serve to strengthen ties with Mexico and Latin America;
  • Significant component of a highly productive work and business force that contributes to the tax base and therefore the economic well-being of the U.S.;
  • Poised to participate and shape the U.S. political landscape through voting and civic engagement

Education alone, however, is not the answer to economic inequity, as Latino families whose highest level of education was a bachelor’s degree hold less median wealth than non-Hispanic white families whose highest level of education is too a high school degree. This stark disparity makes it clear that more education alone is not the silver bullet to achieving equity. 

Also, one of the reasons the economic progress of Latinos has been difficult is that today’s working Latinos cannot reap the same economic benefits that prior generations enjoyed from having good jobs that only required high school. Instead, they must acquire at least some college in order to enter the middle class. Latinos’ educational progress has left them primarily in the middle tier of educational attainment: between high school and bachelor’s degrees. As a result, they are primarily in the middle skill sub-baccalaureate labor market.

In short, Latinos have lower access to education, food, products, and services. They have insufficient bargaining power, gaps in legal protections, discrimination, and social norms that all cluster Latino workers into jobs that pay low wages, offer little in terms of employer-sponsored benefits, and rank high in labor law violations.

Investing early and consistently toward college degree completion improves Latino labor market prospects and social integration. If Latinos were fully and equitably included in the U.S. economy, gains for the broader society could be tremendous. If we follow through as these reports suggest, a more equitable treatment for Latinos will strengthen and improve U.S. society for all.

Latinos are the bridge to a post-pandemic future, as well as a post-pandemic economy. We are the growth population in this country and so what happens to Latinos in education and in the workforce development has profound and significant implications for everyone, whether or not they are in that population.