November 19, 2012

In crisis for U.S., 80 percent of Hispanic workers without college

Without more education, Hispanics won't be able to fill higher-paying jobs, contributing to the U.S. income disparity and slowing the sales that propel the earnings of U.S. companies.

By CRAIG TORRES/Bloomberg News

MANASSAS, Va. — Sitting a few steps away from a black marble memorial to his friend Mickey, who was stabbed to death two years ago at age 15, Ronald Ramos looks bewildered when asked why he didn't take the SAT, seek financial aid and apply to college after graduating from high school.

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Ronald Ramos, 18, of Manassas, Va., is looking for a temporary job to help him pay for college. Hispanics such as Ramos are the fastest-growing component of America’s work force.

Danny O'Shea/Bloomberg News

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The headstone of Miguel “Mickey” Hernandez, who died of a stab wound to the chest in November 2010 at age 15. Ronald Ramos, above, one of Hernandez's friends, says gangs prowled the neighborhoods and their members were also in the schools.

Danny O'Shea/Bloomberg News

"Parents don't know what the system is here," he says in an interview at Georgetown South, a Latino neighborhood in Manassas. "We don't know what to do."

Hispanics such as Ramos are the fastest-growing component of America's work force. The country will need their taxes to help pay the Social Security benefits of retirees and their skills to fill jobs of baby boomers leaving the labor force.

Today, Ramos, who is 18 and of Mexican descent, is looking for temporary work to help pay for college. If he fails, he risks joining the more than 80 percent of Latinos ages 25 and older who don't have a bachelor's degree.


The lack of educational attainment among Hispanics is one of the biggest crises in the American labor force with far-reaching implications for the economy. Without more education, Hispanics won't be able to fill higher-paying jobs, contributing to the already widening U.S. income disparity.

Without higher incomes, they won't join the consumers that propel the earnings of U.S. companies ranging from Ford to Verizon Communications. The unemployment rate for Hispanics was 10 percent in October, compared with 7.9 percent nationally.

"You can't meet our national goals and our work force needs without having a tactical plan for Latinos," says Deborah Santiago, vice president of policy and research for Excelencia in Education, a Washington research organization that focuses on education of Hispanics. "This is just a factual statement given what the current population numbers are."

Only 14 percent of Hispanics ages 25 and older had a bachelor's degree or higher in 2011 compared with 51 percent for Asians, 20 percent for African-Americans and 34 percent for whites, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Hispanics were crucial to President Obama's re-election Nov. 6, giving 71 percent of their votes to him according to an exit poll by Edison Research of Somerville, N.J., and published by The New York Times. They played a role in his victories in states including Florida, Colorado, Nevada and Virginia.

The president authorized a program in June that shields from deportation undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States before age 16 and are no older than 30 so they can attend U.S. schools or apply for work permits. By contrast, the Republican platform opposed amnesty for illegal immigrants, urged them to leave voluntarily and supported workplace verification systems.

Of the 47 million new workers entering the labor force between 2010 and 2050, a projected 37.6 million, or 80 percent, will be Hispanic, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report in October. Their share of the work force will grow to 18.6 percent by 2020 and to 30 percent in 2050, doubling from 15 percent in 2010, according to the BLS.

That means by the end of the decade, about one in five available workers for companies such as Citigroup, Apple or General Motors will have last names like Ramos, Castillo or Perez.

Immigration trends could change. The net flow of immigrants from Mexico, the largest source of immigration to the U.S., began slowing five years ago, according to the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington.


Still, companies will count on growing Latino household formation to sell their products.

"If you don't reach out to the Hispanic consumer, you cannot make it," says Alvaro Cabal, Ford's manager in charge of Hispanic communications, in Dallas. "From the iPhone to the Android, from cars to houses to sausages, that is the reality. It is going to be a huge population."

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