The Hispanic Key to Our National Economic Future

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.