As we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, I am grateful for my family and friends, my health, and the freedoms I have that make our nation truly exceptional. Some things, however, do not make it to my gratitude list. This includes limited opportunities for Latinos—and millions of other Americans—to prosper in the long run.
Latinos are living on opposite ends of the economic spectrum. A small percentage of us are making gains while another percentage is living from check-to-check. Reconciling these competing realities means understanding the dynamics that make them possible in the first place.
A Forbes article, Retailers Need To Go Beyond Demographics To Go Big With Their Latino Customers, detailed the economic gains Hispanics are making. According to the article, “Latinos diligence and hard work are starting to pay off. Already some 20% of all Hispanic/Latino households (3.6 million) have incomes of $100k and above.” That means 80% are not doing as well.
What I see in California is a different story. According to a CalMatters article, “Latino households are struggling to pay for basic expenses like food, housing and electricity, despite California’s strong economy and labor market. On average, they earn only 58% of what white households earn.”
This kind of economic imbalance does not serve our society well. Instead, it results in diminished hopes and limited opportunities. A nation as prosperous as ours should never tolerate this kind of difference.
I’m not looking for a boogeyman to blame. I want to identify the problems and solutions. Doing this will create an environment that catapults people from limited prospects to unlimited potential.
In the United States, Latinos have some of the most demanding and labor intensive jobs. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report, nearly 17 percent of Hispanics work in “natural resources, construction and maintenance” positions. These roles are often low skill and low pay. In comparison, a combined total of 19 percent for Whites, African Americans and Asians hold these positions.
The opposite is true for higher paying jobs in management roles. Every major group is largely over represented except for Latinos. “Fifty-two percent of employed Asians worked in management, professional, and related occupations—the highest paying major occupational category—compared with 41% of employed Whites, 31% of employed Blacks, and 23% of employed Hispanics.” These numbers tell us that Latinos work hard, but not necessarily “smarter.”
Low-paying jobs are only part of the problem. Misguided misguided and flawed government policies, high cost of living, and limited opportunities also play a role.
Take California, for example. The state has increased its minimum wage and aims to get to $15 an hour by 2023. It sounds good on its face. But what happens when businesses close their doors because they can’t afford an artificially-mandated increase? Artificial wage increases will never balance things in favor of those who are struggling. It is a temporary, short-sighted fix that provides more income for lower skills.
Or consider that the state has been raising gas taxes and vehicle license fees to allegedly fix roads. According to a Tax Foundation post from July 2019, Californians pay “[…] the highest tax rate of 61.2 cents per gallon.” Simply put, money in your gas tank is not money in your pocket or for housing or food.
Gaining new skills or knowledge should also not be cost-prohibitive. If you have limited time and income, you need educational solutions that are innovative, flexible and affordable. It’s illogical to have people take on educational debt only to graduate and find there’s no demand for their degree.
We have to set higher standards for ourselves and each other. We also need to build bridges to success that allow many to cross over to a better life. Anything that stands in the way of that (failed policies, bad political leadership, etc.) are obstacles to be overcome. It is imperative to decide we are done with just working to get by; it is time to thrive.
Those of us enjoying well paying jobs, regular work, or starting businesses in record numbers, are seeing what is possible. We need more of that. And we need to ensure that no matter who is in power Latinos will face less obstacles on their way up.
Implementing policies that lower taxes for small businesses and make access to capital easier are a start. Another solution is creating tax incentives for people to take vocational classes and equip themselves with in demand skills. And since knowledge is power we should make financial literacy and wealth building tools readily available.
Working just to pay bills is not a life, it is a trap. There is a way out. Latinos must open the door to a better tomorrow and keep it open for those coming behind them. We owe it to future generations to create the kind of world where the American Dream can still be achieved.
This Thanksgiving, let us count our blessings and celebrate what we have accomplished. Let’s also commit to electing people who advocate for policies that will help fellow Americans build generational wealth and more opportunities to succeed. Let’s stop settling for the status quo and achieve our true potential.