(This was originally published on The Hill newspaper’s Congress Blog)
By Javier Palomarez and Eric Rodriguez
The upcoming weeks of bipartisan budget negotiations offer a fresh chance for Congress to put an end to the brinksmanship and discord and prove to the public that it can govern responsibly and get the economy growing again. Latinos, who have been especially hard hit by recent budget decisions, will be watching closely to see what emerges. If lawmakers really want to earn the respect—and the votes—of Latinos, they should agree on a long-term budget solution that stops the damaging sequester cuts, restores investments in workers and businesses, and grows the economy.
Like all Americans, Hispanic voters pegged job creation and the economy as their number one priority in the last election. Yet the budget decisions of the last three years fly directly in the face of those concerns. The most egregious example is sequestration, the senseless budget cuts which are set to take effect for a second straight year in January if Congress doesn’t act.
The job toll alone—1.6 million jobs lost due to sequestration by the end of 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office—has been devastating to our community, which faces an unemployment rate of more than 9 percent. High unemployment brought on by sequestration threatens the future health of the economy when Hispanics will account for one in three American workers. More cuts could also turn back the clock on the slow improvements in Hispanic hiring within the federal government. Our community makes up 15 percent of the overall labor force, but only 8.2 percent of the federal workforce. The federal workforce, no matter the size, should reflect the demographics of the American workforce.
Sequestration has also stifled the ability of Latino business owners, the fastest-growing segment of new businesses, to accelerate America’s economic recovery. The number of Hispanic-owned firms across the U.S. is projected to reach 3.16 million by the end of 2013, representing a growth of nearly 40 percent since 2007. Budget cuts to discretionary programs that help small businesses, and Hispanic small businesses in particular, access capital through Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and pursue procurement opportunities are a detriment to economic growth.
Program cuts like these have accounted for 70 percent of deficit reduction so far ($1.8 trillion), while only 30 percent ($600 billion) has come from new revenue. This unbalanced approach is not only unfair, but unsustainable.
The assumption that local communities are unscathed and therefore oblivious to the federal budget negotiations is simply untrue. We have heard countless stories from Latino workers and businesses owners that they want their leaders to stop the cuts and restore smart investments in working families and small businesses. Results, rather than antics, will win the support of the Hispanic community.
Palomarez is the president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Rodriguez serves as the vice president of the Office of Research, Advocacy and Legislation at the National Council of La Raza.