National Academies: Education Can Make the Difference

On the same day that Senate subcommittees were collecting testimony about growing threats of violence along the US-Mexico border, the National Academies released a study on how the USA might harvest the "demographic dividend" of the rising Hispanic population while the second generation is still young (averaging 12 years of age) and in school.

Were US policy makers to concern themselves with democracy now, the alternative of education, education, education would be the urgent call of the day, to catch the rising population while they are in school. And yet, here in penny-wise Texas, visitors to this website are still split 50-50 on the question of income taxes to support schools.–gm

Excerpt below from executive summary, "Multiple Origins, Uncertain Destinies: Hispanics and the American Future". Marta Tienda and Faith Mitchell, Editors, Committee on Transforming Our Common Destiny: Hispanics in the United States, National Research Council
By 2030, 25 percent of U.S. residents will be of retirement age or older, but Hispanics are a youthful population. In 2000, their median age was just 27, compared with 39 for non-Hispanic whites. Furthermore, today the median age of the Hispanic second generation, the nation’s future workers, is just over 12. Rising numbers of Hispanic young people will slow the nation’s overall population aging and can partially offset the growing burden of dependency produced by an aging majority. But their success in doing so depends on the level of their earnings, which in turn depends on their education and acquisition of job-related skills. Currently, Hispanics’ representation among highly skilled U.S. workers is below the national average.

Perhaps the most profound risk facing Hispanics is failure to graduate from high school, which remains unacceptably high. The share of Hispanic high school students 16 to 19 years old who failed to graduate fell only marginally during the 1990s, from 22 to 21 percent. Foreign-born Hispanic youths 16 to 19 years old are significantly more likely than nativeborn students to drop out of high school—34 compared with 14 percent in 2000—but being foreign born is not the main reason that they fail to graduate. Many immigrant students who drop out are recent arrivals who were already behind in school before arriving in the United States. In addition, in the urban schools that many Hispanics attend, low graduation rates are typical. Fully 40 percent of Hispanic students attend high schools that serve large numbers of low-income minority students and graduate less than 60 percent of entering freshmen.

Hispanic college enrollment is on the rise, but still lags well behind that of whites. In 2000 Hispanics accounted for 11 percent of high school graduates, but only 7 percent of students enrolled in 4-year institutions and 14 percent of enrollees in 2-year schools. Hispanic students are more likely than whites to attend 2-year colleges, which decreases the likelihood that they will complete a bachelor’s degree. As a result, the Hispanic-white college gap is increasing, despite the fact that Hispanic college enrollment is on the rise.

Hispanic students who fail to master English before leaving school incur considerable costs. English proficiency is mandatory for success in the labor market and is vitally important for navigating health care systems and for meaningful civic engagement. How to ensure proficiency in English remains highly controversial: there is no consensus on how best to teach non-English-speaking students across the grade spectrum.

The significance of Hispanics’ high school dropout rates, low enrollment rates in 4-year colleges, and need to master English cannot be overstated because the fastest-growing and best-paying jobs now require at least some postsecondary education. In 1999, nearly 6 of 10 jobs required college-level skills, including many that had not required college training in the past. In rapidly growing occupations, such as health services, nearly three in four jobs now require some college education. These trends bode ill for Hispanics as their college attendance and graduation gap with whites widens.

Additional challenges for Hispanics are posed by new developments that affect families and children. The number of Hispanic mother-only families is growing, as it is for other ethnic and racial groups. Because mother-only families are significantly more likely to be poor, this trend signals heightened vulnerabilities for a growing number of youth. Moreover, it is too soon to tell what the long-term effects of welfare reform will be on Hispanics—especially on groups that rely most heavily on public benefits.

Young people are also at risk of failure because of the rising numbers of Hispanic families that lack health insurance. Expansions of federally subsidized programs such as Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program appear unlikely in an era of unprecedented federal budget deficits. Continued immigration of Hispanics from Mexico and other countries in Central and South America, coupled with their geographic dispersal to areas unaccustomed to providing care for diverse groups of patients, will challenge current approaches to providing health insurance coverage and health care to low-income Hispanics, particularly to recent immigrants.

With institutional investments, Hispanic immigrants and their children can acquire the education and language skills necessary to realize the Hispanic demographic dividend, namely the higher earning potential of a youthful Hispanic workforce. In 2000 the 2-year average educational gap between all Hispanics and whites cost about $100 billion in lost earnings. Given the growth in the Hispanic populations that is projected to occur over the next 30 years, the cost of this education gap could rise to $212
billion in current dollars by 2030, taking into account the generational shift.

Failure to close Hispanics’ education and language gaps risks compromising their ability to both contribute to and share in national prosperity. How these risks and opportunities play out over the decades ahead will define not only the kind of future Hispanics will inherit, but also the economic and social contours of the United States in the 21st century.

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