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Help make Latinos middle class and we all benefit

November 18, 2018

The grass-roots efforts to get out the vote and media attention given to the importance of the midterm elections cannot be overstated. Elected representatives at all levels of government and their policy-making matter because they are significant contributors to who gains and who loses from passage of any legislation. Their impact in providing opportunities, or creating barriers, to strengthen middle-class families are a case in point.

Despite low unemployment and some recent wage gains, families face multiple economic challenges to building strong foundations for their children’s future. Wages have been stagnating for nearly three decades; the gap between the rich and poor has widened; and the trend toward low rates of upward mobility is apparent.

The recently enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is primarily beneficial to the already rich and does little for working families. The economic challenges for the low-income and families of color are even greater.

Opportunities and a better life for their children are a driving goals for Latinos, like they are for most Texas families. Latinos rank highest in their desire to achieve the American dream. Parents have expectations that their children will enter adulthood with assets made possible by a quality education, a livable and comfortable paying job, and good health.

In Texas, the number of low-income and poverty-level Latino families is higher now than in the 1960s, and the number of at-risk children in these families has increased fourfold. About 48 percent of Latino families are low-income or below the poverty level, and 45 percent of Latino children are at risk of not achieving middle-class economic status.

Still, Latino impact on the national and state economy is significant. The Latino contribution to gross domestic product of $2.13 trillion represents 11.8 percent of the total U.S. GDP. Latinos contributed 18.3 percent of the total growth in U.S. GDP. In fact, the $2.13 trillion ranks as the seventh-largest GDP in the world, compared to the world’s 10 largest economies.

Texas is one of the four states with the largest GDP and highest percentage of Latinos in their population.

Unfortunately, Texas demonstrates that its public policies often limit middle-class prosperity growth or a level economic-opportunity playing field for families. National report cards, research reports, numerous lawsuits and media investigative reporting highlight the harmful impacts from the state’s minimal policy-making across human capital investment, or HCI, areas. These areas include education, child development, health care, labor and employment training, and affordable housing. Regressive tax policies, excessive bowing to business interests, inadequate consumer protections and anti-immigration policies are additional barriers to economic mobility.

There is a direct relationship between HCIs and parental ability to establish a child development foundation that supports economic opportunities. Children who grow up in financially secure families are, by far, more likely to achieve higher education, to expand their job opportunities and to earn higher incomes. They also experience good health, acquire home ownership, have fewer social stressors and make fewer bad social decisions (teen pregnancy, single parenthood, drugs, crime), and participate more in civic engagement.

We must stop viewing these policy areas as simply “safety-net” programs. Imagine the economic impact if all Latino families achieved middle-class economic status. Economics and money are interwoven across these issues. Indeed, private-sector lobbying and advocacy are to defend or create financial self-interest opportunities; however, we rarely refer to their interest as advocating for a safety net or “public welfare.”

Demographers and economists have amply demonstrated the financial losses to the states’ economy because of the lack of HCIs and the demographic changes to a majority nonwhite population.

Done correctly and fairly, HCI policies are economic win-wins for achievement of the “American dream,” children’s future and the state’s prosperity.

Juan H. Flores is a consultant and adviser on health and social policy.

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