Latinos silver lining in economic cloud

There’s a silver lining in the recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California, in spite of its doom-and-gloom conclusions projecting a major shortage of professionals in California by 2020.

While the PPIC’s “California’s Future Workforce: Will There Be Enough College Graduates?” study accurately predicts this phenomena, it reaffirms why the future of California ‘s economy depends on Latinos.

According to the study, the number of college-educated workers grew from 28 percent in 1990 to 34 percent in 2006, and due to California ‘s fast-changing demographics, the state will need 4 out of every 10 workers to have earned at least a bachelor’s degree by 2025.

At the same time, the bulk of the baby-boom generation will retire and the Latino population in the workforce will grow from 29 percent in 2006 to 40 percent by 2020. Unfortunately, although a fast growing segment of the college enrollment in the state are Latinos, as of 1990 only 7 percent of Latinos had a bachelor’s degree and the study predicts that only 12 percent will attain that level of education by 2020.

Thus, California’s policymakers and educational leaders need to finally recognize that the state’s economy depends on the quality of education we offer K-12 students. It’s critical to fully fund the state’s universities, with targeted spending focused on the fast-growing Latino student population, which currently represents 48 percent of the state’s 6.3 million public school students.

Without a substantial investment in the preparation of Latinos during the next few years — in spite of the projected $28-billion shortfall by 2010 — California will not move from its current 49th place national ranking of high school graduates that go on to college and per capita student spending.

Coincidentally, the same scenario is playing out throughout the U.S. since Latinos already make up 20 percent of all students in the nation’s public schools, and today 66 percent of all kindergarten pupils in the Golden State are Latino.

As a result, California needs to lead the way with steps that will reflect how the next generation of students will be prepared in order to retain the state’s competitiveness as the 8th largest economy of the world.

Not surprisingly, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell recently stated that getting more minority children through college is the state Department of Education’s top priority, and that “It’s more critical than ever to have a well-skilled, educated, critical-thinking workforce … that will come from the subgroups who continue to lag behind their peers.”

Undoubtedly, this challenge will test the ability of our political and educational leaders to recognize the changing face of the state’s population, and the inevitability of funding the educational infrastructure needs for California’s economy to flourish.

While the PPIC study on the future of California’s workforce is utterly revealing, the data on Latinos is not new and this is not the first alarm bell that has been rung. Perhaps the message will be heard this time, regardless of the condition of the economy.

For California, Latinos are the silver lining in its economic future.

Professor Armando Vazquez-Ramos is a lecturer in the Chicano and Latino Studies department and the coordinator of the California-Mexico Project.


  1. Avatar

    Vero, Daisy, and Crystal — Good takes, but essentially comes to system that educating the Latinos is a political project as one professor has said. Do you all see an effort to defy such future bleak outcomes among Latino student population? I don’t. It’s OK to have around 40% of Latino students drop out of high school — however in a mindswap do you all think it would be okay to have 85%, 90%, or even 95% of them graduate? Really. In our wildest dreams.

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    The majority of the population of kids k-12 are latinos. We then need to provide them with a better understanding of the A-G requirements. This will better help them further their education and secure them of all ther required fields in order to get into a University or College. Better counseling and informing the students of all the opportunites to get into college will open a whole new world for our upcoming generations.

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    Crystal Rodriguez

    I agree that it is essential and a priority to provide additional funds to K-12 schools in order to make sure that minorities are provided the education and tools they need to succeed and eventually graduate from college. Besides, one cannot ignore the fact that half of the elementary school children are Latino.

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    Well it says that getting more minority children through college is the state Department of Education’s top priority, and that “It’s more critical than ever to have a well-skilled, educated, critical-thinking workforce”. In my opinon, I think the best way to do this is by targeting the elementary, middle and high schools, instead of targeting the colleges. It is here where students are taught the most important things that they will need to succeed in life. I believe that the most crucial period is pre-school or early education. Children absorb the most information from the ages of birth to five years of age. This is why pre-school’s, Head Start and early education programs are so vital. I think more money should be spent on all the underfunded schools that most Latino students attend. It seems that the best way to increase the number of Latinos with a college degree is to start at the base. The earlier those students are educated the better the chances are of them going to college. This is what this country need’s and this might be a possible solution for the high demand of college educated workers in the year 2025.

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    Thanks Professsor Vazquez for shedding light on the issue that’s chasing California now and may for a long, long time – economic instability- due to the shrinking number of workforce professionals in California. The lack of professionals culminates economic instability which then equals high crime rate, political turmoil, high unemployment rate, weak educational system and so on. If California does not succeed in paving the way to increase the talent capital of the future’s workforce population which are and will be Latinos, California is asking for economic troubles. If you think roads, bridges, buildings, businesses, transportation and schools systems, and other things that keep the state economically afloat are bad now well it is going to get worse if the state does not invest in its existing workforce talent pool.

    What’s the remedy? Do what Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and Professor Vazquez did and sound off those forewarnings that California’s economy is on shaky ground. Like we don’t already know it, right? However raising red flags are not good enough until they are acted upon; that is why, most importantly, leaders of this great state need to act and leverage all resources available and address this issue. Resources includes the Latino population and investing in their unlimited talents. There is no excuse for a whole generation to pass by and have California’s universities NOT to do the very least and double bachelor degrees among the Latino population as the PPIC study suggests – only 7% of Latinos had a bachelor’s degree in 1990 and just 12% will attain that level of education by 2020. With college age group (18-24) expected to the highest sub-group amongst the projected 43 million Latinos in California by 2020, what does California expect if it doesn’t invest in this pool of talent? Economic miracles?

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