Education and training are the linchpins that will give the nation’s Hispanic workers and their children important tools to contribute to and share in U.S. prosperity, says a new report from the National Academies’ National Research Council that examines the Hispanic experience in the United States. Targeted investments in these areas would benefit not only Hispanics, but also the country as a whole by enhancing U.S. productivity as baby boomers shift into retirement.
The children of Spanish-speaking immigrants are a critical part of America’s future success. By 2030, they will number about 26 million and most will be in the labor force, the report notes. Underinvesting in their education would compromise the quality of their lives and, in all likelihood, U.S. competitiveness.
Hispanics are the nation’s largest and fastest-growing ethnic group. Today they represent 14 percent of the U.S. population, and many are young. In 2000 the median age of the Hispanic population was 27—compared with 39 for non-Hispanic whites. If current demographic trends continue, Hispanics will make up nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population within two decades. And this population growth will occur across many parts of the country, the report says.
The committee’s study—which covered economic, health, education, and other aspects of Hispanics’ lives—found that, like many other immigrants in U.S. history, Hispanics have adapted to their new environments. But Hispanics are not a monolithic community; they vary in national origin, immigrant and legal status, skin color, socio-economic background, language use, and political views.
They also face some conditions that other waves of immigrants did not, such as a global marketplace that increasingly relies on well-educated employees, the report says. Many Hispanics are now on the bottom rungs of the U.S. economic ladder in low-paying service jobs. This is especially true for recent immigrants, most of whom arrive with little formal education. Inadequate English language skills and schooling frequently limit their access to better jobs and impede the upward mobility of their children. English proficiency is key for success in the job market, higher learning, and everyday activities such as navigating health care systems and participating in civic life, the report says.
“Although their experiences in some ways mirror those of previous immigrant groups, the size of the Hispanic population, its varied immigration experiences, the global economy, and an aging majority population have created unique challenges and opportunities for the nation,” said Marta Tienda, chair of the panel that wrote the report and Maurice P. During Professor in Demographic Studies and professor of sociology and public affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J. “Significant educational investments will not only foster improvements in their health status, civic engagement, and economic productivity, but also contribute to U.S. prosperity.”
Failure to complete high school remains a major problem for many Hispanics, leaving them ill-equipped to compete for high-paying jobs in an economy driven by technology and information, the report says. Although many immigrant students are academically behind when they arrive in this country, both foreign-born Hispanics and Hispanics born in the United States are less likely to be high school graduates than non-Hispanics. On the whole, improving the educational attainment of Hispanics would raise their standard of living and help preserve America’s economic security.
The study was sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Cancer Institute, Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute on Aging, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, California HealthCare Foundation, and the California Endowment. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter. A panel roster follows.
Copies of Multiple Origins, Uncertain Destinies: Hispanics and the American Future will be available this spring from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above). By K.S.
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