Five years ago, a bright 18-year-old Hispanic girl was part of a cleaning crew we hired after some home improvements.
Because she was the only one in the crew who spoke English, and given her youthful appearance, I asked her if she was still in school.
She said no because her father insisted she work and told her “school was not work.”
I was stunned by the remark. It was a profound statement of failure.
Now, with the recent 2010 census revealing that Hispanics comprise 16% of our nation’s population — and 23% of children under the age of 17 — that amazing remark re-surfaced in my mind five years later.
Could such shortsighted parental thinking possibly explain some alarming trends regarding the lack of Hispanic educational achievement — ultimately leading to lower income levels and higher poverty rates?
Consider the following statistics:
According to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis, 41% of Hispanics aged 20 and older do not have a regular high school diploma, versus 23% of comparably aged African-Americans and 14% of non-Hispanic whites. According to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Hispanics have a 23.8% high school drop-out rate compared to 7% for non-Hispanic whites.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics college enrollment rates for 2009 high school graduates reveal Hispanic enrollment at 59.3%, lower than any other national ethic group — compared to 92.2% for Asians, 69.2% for whites, and 68.7% for African-Americans.
College completion rates are even worse for Hispanics, with only 51% of them reaching graduation — according to the Gates Foundation, which supplies a screaming press release headline: “Low Hispanic College Graduation Rates Threaten U.S. Attainment Goals.”
“These are the students,” the press release warns, “who are going to replace the baby boomers, and who we will rely on to drive our economy over the next several decades.” Equally alarming, according to the White House, only 13% of Hispanics have obtained a bachelor’s degree and only 4% have advanced degrees.
In Washington the census news that the Hispanic population had grown to one out of every six Americans was seen of course through a political lens. The Washington Post announced: “The Republicans’ Hispanic problem.”
Nationwide, you see, in the 2010 midterm election the GOP won 38% of the Hispanic vote and in the 2008 presidential election McCain won only 32% of the Hispanic vote vs. 67% for Obama.
But our nation’s Hispanic growth is not only a “Republican problem”; it’s also a Democrat problem.
Hispanics are voting overwhelmingly Democrat because that party is generally associated with forever increasing government spending to support numerous programs and benefits aimed at helping those at the lower end of the economic scale.
The latest census reported the poverty rate for Hispanics was 25.3%, up from 21.5% in 2007. With one in four Hispanics living below the poverty line, there is great hope that educational attainment among young Hispanics will eventually lift a majority of them up into the middle class and beyond.
If not, as a group, they will continue to earn less and need more government services.
But with the federal government currently borrowing 40 cents out of every dollar it spends, with a whopping $14 trillion in debt, how much more government assistance can Democrats promise to any ethnic or special interest group?
The reality is that low Hispanic educational achievement is a growing national problem that both parties need to address as a high priority.
For within our nation there is a simple economic truth that extends across all ethnic groups: the greater your educational attainment, the higher your income — and the less you need government help.
That economic truth is one Hispanic parents need to fully embrace and teach their children. Developing-world thinking that school is not “work” and therefore not as worthwhile does not compute in America, where more school leads to better work.
As mentioned earlier, new census data reveals that 23% of children under age 17 are Hispanic. If current trends hold, we can expect at least a quarter of those children will be high school drop-outs, with a lifetime spent in minimum wage jobs and an over-dependence on government services.
The negative impact of a 23.8% Hispanic high school dropout rate on our nation’s economy will only increase in severity as the Hispanic population continues to grow — projected to triple to 29% of the population by 2050.
Coupled with the data that 41% of the Hispanic population over 20 does not have a high school diploma, one can easily understand the urgency to find creative solutions to the problem of educational achievement among young Hispanics before their increasing numbers drag down our economy.
That bright 18-year-old housecleaner knew that her father’s thinking was very wrong.
A future as a housecleaner was not her American dream.
She told me she was trying to change his mind so she could further her education.
For her sake and for the sake of our nation’s future, I hope she was successful.