The State of Latinos in the United States

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Our country is rapidly changing. As we approach the year 2050, our nation will be increasingly more diverse, and Latinos will be one of the forces driving this demographic change. According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau population estimate, there are roughly 50.5 million Hispanics representing about 16 percent of the U.S. population. By 2050, when demographers tell us that there will be no racial or ethnic majority among the general population of the United States, it is projected that the Latino population will double to 30 percent. Consequently, the role of Latinos in shaping our country’s political and economic climate is becoming more significant.

Since Latinos are one of the fastest-growing populations in the country, it’s imperative that we address the challenges that this community faces. It is well-documented that communities of color, including Latinos, face significant disparities in health care, education, and economic indicators. Thus, it’s crucial that our local and national leaders put into place policy solutions to address these disparities.

This issue brief examines the state of Latinos in the United States at large in regards to five key areas: the workplace, educational attainment, health, veterans affairs, and political leadership.

  • the rapid growth in communities of color, especially among Latinos, has created a significant racial-generational gap in the United States. In 2010, 34.9 percent of Hispanics were under the age of 18, compared to 20.9 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
  • Unemployment rates for Latinos vary depending on educational attainment. Across all racial groups, greater educational attainment is correlated to improved employment outcomes. Unemployment continues to be higher for those with fewer years of schooling. In 2011 unemployment for Latinos with only a high school degree was 10.3 percent, compared to 8.4 percent of whites with only a high school degree.
  • Despite promising trends, it’s important that we begin to address some of the barriers that Latinos experience in the workforce such as high unemployment rates and lower levels of educational attainment. As one of the fastest-growing populations, it’s crucial that we close these gaps now to have a successful workforce in the future.

Educational attainment

Education has long been recognized as a gateway to success. As one of the fastest-growing demographics in our country, educational attainment among Latinos is especially important to ensure that our youth are academically equipped to meet the challenges of the future. Educational attainment among young Latinos has progressed significantly over past few years and has led to the narrowing of the education gap between Hispanics and other racial and ethnic groups, particularly when it comes to postsecondary education.

  • While Latinos have been making great strides in educational attainment, they continue to lag behind other racial and ethnic groups.

From 2009 to 2010 there was a 24 percent increase in college enrollment among Latinos. The overall number of young adults aged 18 to 24 years old attending college in the United States hit an all-time high in October 2010 at 12.2 million, with Hispanics accounting for 15 percent of that population, or 1.8 million young adults. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, from 2009 to 2010 the number of Hispanic young adults enrolled in college grew by 349,000, compared with an increase of 88,000 young blacks and 43,000 young Asian Americans and a decrease of 320,000 young whites.

  • it is not just population growth, but rather rising educational attainment, that is the driving force behind the increase in Latino college enrollment rates. The share of young Latinos enrolled in college nearly doubled from 2009 to 2010, from 13 percent to 27 percent. There is still more work to be done, however, because while Hispanics have reached record numbers in terms of college enrollment—32 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds—they continue to lag in comparison to all other racial and ethnic groups. African Americans (38 percent), Asians (62 percent), and young white adults (43 percent) continue to be more likely to attend college than Hispanics.

  • While enrollment rates have greatly increased among Latinos this does not always translate into a college degree. Clearly, Latinos are narrowing the gap in educational attainment, but they continue to lag behind other racial and ethnic groups in college-completion rates and are still the least educated.

  • While population growth has aided in the increase of Latino college enrollment, increases in high school graduation rates have been key to the booming Latino college enrollment numbers. One of the vital factors behind the increase in college enrollment is the record number of young Latinos earning high school diplomas. In October 2010 Hispanic high school completion reached its peak at 73 percent.

Given the growth of the Latino community, it is important to invest in this booming young population. Studies show that employers pay workers with a college degree approximately 50 percent more on average than a worker whose educational attainment is less than a high school diploma. Increased college attainment among the country’s fastest-growing demographic is not only transformational for the individuals who get a postsecondary education, it is also key for our nation if we are to continue to be competitive in the global market. Investing in education amid growing demographic changes is crucial to building our workforce for tomorrow.