As the nation’s largest racial group, Latinos represent an important demographic sector for L.A.’s economic prosperity. According to the Census Bureau, while Latinos represented an estimated 50.5 million residents or 16 percent of the total U.S. population in 2010, this group comprised over 1.8 million residents—almost 49 percent of the city’s total population. Given Latinos’ higher-than-average national birth rates and growth via immigration, these numbers will continue to climb.
Moreover, in terms of K-12 public schooling, during Los Angeles Unified School District’s 2009-10 academic year, Latinos comprised almost 500,000 students—73 percent of the total student body.
However, what are the potential economic outcomes of these large demographic figures if Latinos, as a racial group, lack the necessary human capital, technical know-how and workforce skills to compete in a highly sophisticated and competitive global city?
Overall, as a nation, we continue to experience societal and economic challenges. While we have made enormous economic progress since the onset of the Great Recession in late 2008, too many Americans lack employment and good-paying jobs to support themselves and their families. Also, in an aging society with millions of baby boomers on the verge of retiring and tapping into so-called entitlement programs to survive, this translates into enormous pressure for particular groups—such as Latinos, who, according to the Pew Research Center, comprise a quarter of the nation’s youth population—to sustain these vital programs for present and future generations.
Recently, during its first quarterly report, the influential economists at the UCLA Anderson Forecast reported on bleak economic figures and recommendations for recovery and growth. According to the UCLA economists, while the county experienced a greater loss of net jobs compared to all large metropolitan areas, at the city level, economist William Yu documented the high costs of housing and transportation in the context of what has been referred to as an unfriendly business environment. Yu also reported on the low levels of human capital in the city and its under-performing public school system, making it more difficult for those with low educational attainment levels and limited workforce skills to secure employment in this highly competitive society.
Consequently, according to Yu and others, as a means of improving the local economy, Los Angeles needs to improve its local public schools, business environment and recruitment of highly educated individuals. Not surprisingly, as many of us are well aware, L.A.’s economy also needs to be improved more evenly, since areas like the Westside have more educated individuals with better jobs compared to other historically disadvantaged areas, like South Los Angeles and East Los Angeles. Also, if we take into consideration that the affluent in West Los Angeles have the financial resources and human capital to send their children to expensive, K-12 private schools, and hire private tutors, we can clearly see how economic inequality can be produced.
To provide an even playing field for all Latinos, especially those in low-income communities, we – educators, business executives, policy makers, community leaders, non-profit groups, philanthropic foundations, etc. – need to better collaborate to support targeted communities with an emphasis on families. Given the importance of the family to Latinos, it only makes sense to focus on this unit to improve the outcomes of all parties, especially youths. While individual success is important, having a solid foundation, as a family, provides more beneficial outcomes to all family members, particularly at the neighborhood level.
The point here is to help prepare Latino families to be better equipped and knowledgeable as a means of preparing the youth for mainstream competition in one generation or more. By achieving this ambitious goal, Latino youth will be better positioned to compete in this highly sophisticated, competitive, and inter-linked society. While Latinos, as group, may lack the financial resources and human capital to compete against affluent members of our diverse city, they do possess valuable assets that need to be cultivated and enhanced, such as social capital, a strong work ethic, and entrepreneurial spirit, in order to succeed.
That said, Latinos must also take control of their own destiny by working within and outside of their social networks. They must think differently and more critically in this technologically-driven society, especially given the fact that those who don’t adapt to this new reality will continue to be left behind.
This is not to say or imply that Latinos should operate in a vacuum, where historical developments, structural forces and policies at the local, regional, state and federal levels continue to benefit those at the top. Yet, by being critical about the many structural obstacles that they confront and taking action—individually and collectively—in accordance to these new and rapidly changing societal conditions, Latinos will better maximize their opportunities.
In short, if—or better, when—Latinos achieve success and upward mobility in this country, we will all benefit as residents, workers, employers and supporters of the greatest global city of them all: Los Angeles.
Steve Moya and Alvaro Huerta