By Alicia Criado, Policy Associate, Economic and Employment Policy Project, NCLR
I recently received an email from Vicky, an NCLR supporter, who thanked me for reporting each month on how Latinos are doing in today’s economy. She also shared that she is unemployed and has come to realize that being bilingual is not enough to help her land a job. Vicky does not have postsecondary education has found that employers want the whole package in a worker: adequate training, in-demand skills, and education beyond high school.
Many jobseekers like Vicky are keenly aware of what it takes to stand out in today’s job market, where the ratio of unemployed workers to job openings is more than three to one. Just over five years from now, in 2018, only 10% of jobs in the U.S. economy will be open to workers with less than a high school degree. Yet today nearly two out of five (38.4%) Latino adults—and almost half of foreign-born Latino adults (47.5%)—do not have a high school diploma. These facts are alarming given that by 2050 one in three American workers will be Latino.
It is not clear that the legislators who Vicky and approximately 12 million Latinos helped elect in 2012 understand the needs of the Latino workforce. According to our latest report, Now Hiring? Latinos and the Job Creation Policies in the South Atlantic, legislators in South Atlantic states have made plans to create jobs without taking stock of the barriers that the burgeoning Hispanic labor force faces. State policymakers are paying little to no attention to the intersections of local job creation policies and current state workforce development, immigration, and transportation systems. Necessary investments in programs like basic skills training, which help Latinos successfully compete for jobs, are often overlooked. Priority is placed on developing and expanding tax incentives to encourage companies to create jobs and endorsing actions like anti-immigrant legislation that hinder Hispanic workers’ access to employment. These choices are to the detriment of workers and businesses alike, thus undermining job growth initiatives.
There is a need for significant policy adjustments at the state level to ensure that jobs in the fastest-growing industries are available to Latinos, the fastest-growing segment of workers. Given the diversity of Latino workers, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work when developing strategies to meet their unique needs. This is especially true for Latinos in the South Atlantic. Disproportionate numbers of Hispanics in the region possess limited formal education or English proficiency and largely have inadequate access to language training. For example, among Latinos over the age of 25 in Georgia, 44.2% have not completed high school and 70.5% have limited English proficiency. If we look at this same population next door in Florida, we find that just 26.3% do not have a high school diploma and 57.4% speak English less than very well. Solutions and approaches must be tailored to local needs.
Now more than ever there is a need for policymakers to ensure that Latinos have a seat at the table to inform the job creation agenda at the state level. The needs and concerns of the Hispanic community should no longer be an afterthought. The early warning signs uncovered in Now Hiring? Latinos and the Job Creation Policies in the South Atlantic call for serious policy discussions on how to ensure that jobs are within reach for a broader share of workers and their families. It is paramount that in this time of limited resources legislators endorse customized policy solutions that benefit employers and cultivate the workforce for years to come. These discussions can’t wait because our economy won’t work without Latinos.
Read NCLR’s latest study, Now Hiring? Latinos and the Job Creation Policies in the South Atlantic, to learn more about the barriers that Latinos face in the labor market and why job creation policies are failing to maximize the employment potential of America’s rapidly growing workforce. For more information, please contact Alicia Criado, Policy Associate at NCLR, at [email protected].