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

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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

Ford began to see the increase in Hispanic car buyers years ago and structured sales and marketing efforts toward them, he says. It's paying off.

The Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker's light-duty vehicle sales volume to Hispanics rose about 25 percent this year through June compared with a 9.7 percent increase in total sales, according to Polk, a Southfield, Mich., auto-marketing research company.

"This population represents the new America," says Magda Yrizarry, chief talent and diversity officer at Verizon in New York. "Both as an employer, and as a company that is responsible to its shareholders, you have to be able to monitor and gain share" of both their spending and their talent.

Verizon recognized the importance of its Hispanic customers in the 1990s, Yrizarry says. Now, 11 percent of the company's work force is Hispanic; it markets specifically to Latino consumers and trains its installation and in-store teams to work with them. It targets Hispanics who are proficient in Spanish and those who aren't, rolling out an ad this year with Jennifer Lopez speaking English in one version and Spanish in another.

Yrizarry says Verizon needs a work force competent in science and engineering and is "concerned broadly" about technology acumen among U.S. students. Low college degree attainment by Hispanics limits the pool of candidates that the company can hire, she says. Verizon is a sponsor of the National Academy Foundation, which promotes industry-focused curricula at the high school level.

"In a growing economy, we will need extra workers," says Richard Fry, a senior research associate at the Pew Hispanic Center. "And more than half of the new workers employers will work with will be Latino. Without a four-year college degree, they are going to have a difficult time in those upper-echelon managerial jobs."

Fry's research shows Hispanics making some gains. The number of 18- to 24-year-olds was a record 16.5 percent share of all college enrollments in 2011 compared with 11 percent in 2006. High-school completion rates reached 76 percent last year, also the highest on record. Associate degrees obtained by Hispanics rose to 112,211 in 2010, up from 97,921 the previous year and 51,563 in 2000, his research shows.

Yet a conversation with Ramos shows the numerous obstacles to getting through high school and into college. Before his friend Miguel "Mickey" Hernandez died of a stab wound to the chest in November 2010, gangs prowled the neighborhoods and their members were also in the schools, he says.

"You had to watch your back. It was really tough," he says, adding that the violence now seems to have subsided.


He says he lives in a house with seven other people. Finding a place to study was difficult. His brother is a drummer. His sister has two small children. His family doesn't have Internet service, making his high school studies and any college application, financial aid and job-search process now difficult.

"There wasn't enough money to pay for it," Ramos says. "I would stay after school or go to the public library or to a friend's house" to access class information online.

He didn't know how to pay for college or even get transportation to attend, which is why he didn't apply before graduating high school. He says he "never understood anything" about federal student financial-aid programs and the forms are confusing.

The wage benefits that come with higher education aren't known by him or his friends, he says. Long-range planning and saving are difficult when his parents struggle to pay monthly bills.

"They just break their backs and get upset because they don't have any money," he says. His mother is a homemaker, and his father works for a construction company.

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