First the bad news, let’s get that out of the way. Latino youth are at a double disadvantage when it comes to political participation. Latinos are the group with the lowest likelihood of turnout and across groups young folks are less likely to vote. That means that young Latinos are theoretically the least likely group to participate politically.
Political participation is a result of resources. Put simply, those with more money and education are more likely to register and turnout. Latinos have the dubious honor of not only having the lowest resource levels but having suffered the greatest decline in wealth during the recession. The white-to-Latino ratio of median wealth after the recession stood at 18-to-1; before the recession, that ratio was less than half. And in terms of educational resources, Latinos are once again at a disadvantage with Latino dropout rates at least doubling those of other groups.
However, rich and poor young folks alike are less likely to turnout than their parents or even grandparents. In the last election 24 percent of 18-29 year olds voted, while 45 percent of voters 30 and older did. Even in the youth-centered 2008 election the 18-29 year olds lagged at least ten points behind all other age brackets. And state voting laws don’t help. In 2008 in state’s that did not have Election Day Registration young Americans were about nine percent less likely to turnout. Younger folks are already less likely to turnout and any mechanism that makes the process of voting harder further suppresses the youth vote.
It seems like bad news all around. Especially, since Latinos have the highest percentage of youth, one-third of Latinos are under the age of 18 compared to one quarter for non-Latinos. Latinos are becoming younger, not older.
The first silver lining is that younger voters are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. While only 7 percent of the 30 plus electorate was Latino, 15 percent of the 18-29 year old electorate was Latino in the 2010 election. And in the 2008 election Latinos as well as African-Americans increased their turnout from the previous presidential election. This data is good news not just because it shows a tangible increase in Latino youth voting, but because we know from political science research that voting is habit forming. Once a person has voted, they are more likely to do so in the future.
Latino youth will also be the target of intense voter mobilization campaigns. More importantly these mobilization campaigns are being tailored to the likes and interests of Latino youth. In other words, political participation is being made cool by groups such as VotoLatino with voter registration booths at Romeo Santos bachata concerts and free downloads of music from artists such as Pitbull.
While young Latinos are on the low end of the resource and education scale they are quickly making advancements. Research by the Pew Hispanic Center recently showed that Latinos are gaining jobs at a faster rate than whites or blacks. Additionally, the latest college enrollment figures show that Latinos had record growth with 32% enrollment, an increase of five percent over 2009. While we can’t ignore the challenges Latinos youth face, these advancements together with targeted Latino youth mobilization makes for tangible good news.
Victoria Defrancesco Soto
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