If Latinos fuel the US economy, why is our financial future at risk?

Panelists discuss the economic well-being of the Hispanic community

Recent headlines claim that the purchasing power of Hispanic Americans can fuel the U.S. economy. However, while employment and household income has increased, Latinos have lagged in building personal wealth.

This paradox between the purchasing power of the Latino community and household assets must be critically examined as Latinos are one of the fastest growing racial or ethnic groups in the country. And special attention must be paid to the unique needs of some in the community—for example, the barrier of paying the citizenship fee application, in order to create a country where all Latinos have the ability to have a secure financial future for themselves and their families.

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Julissa Arce is a political commentator, speaker, writer, and author of the book My (Underground) American Dream. At a panel discussion held at the 2018 UnidosUS Annual Conference, Arce explained that her parents believed that she could be successful if she worked hard and made sure to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, achieving economic success isn’t always that simple.

“There’s a lot of people who work hard and stay out of trouble, but still that formula doesn’t work for them. That formula is broken,” Arce said during an economic plenary session. Indeed, as Arce noted during the panel, only 38% of Latinos could cover a $400 expense without having to borrow money.

Janis Bowdler, President of the JP Morgan Chase Foundation and a former UnidosUS staffer, noted that this disparity in saving can have a real impact.

“As our financial strength grows, so does our ability to increase our assets, open businesses, fund our education, give back philanthropically, support political candidates, and shore up our children’s financial future,” she explained.


“Nobody loves a beat-the-odds story quite like America does,” Bowdler told the audience. “We’ve got this disconnect between the story that we love, and the values that we say that we hold.”

For example, 69% of Latino working age households do not have any retirement assets. Latinos are also disproportionately concentrated in low-wage jobs that may not offer requirement plans—jobs that may be automated soon. While this projection seems bleak, the panelists stressed the urgency that comes with this prediction.

“There’s an opportunity right now to achieve more inclusive growth,” said Bowdler.

Janis Bowdler


“Our community is actually really financially savvy,” Bowdler noted, explaining that she often challenges people she works with to think about the needs of the Latino community from their point of view—that you may be living on minimum wage and still be sending hundreds of dollars to family abroad every month.

There is a deep need for products, and a system, that works more equitably for our entire community.

Another panelist at the economic plenary session was José Quiñonez, CEO of the Mission Asset Fund, a California-based UnidosUS Affiliate. Mission Asset Fund runs a Lending Circles program, which takes a practice that is common across the world (a lending circle where members of a group pool their money and at certain points are able to withdraw a certain amount), but uses a person’s progress in the program to help them build their credit, which can help them and their family get approved for an apartment.

Julissa Arce quote

“We found a way to talk about money in a way that we understood culturally,” he said. “We created a product around what people were already doing with their money.”

While UnidosUS, our Affiliates, and allies continue to push for a fairer economy, the panelists also noted that there is a connection between economic justice and the work that must be done in order to achieve equity for all Americans.

“When we don’t feel like we belong in this country…it’s hard to think about things other than that,” Quiñonez said.

By Stephanie Presch, UnidosUS Content Specialist

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