Chief concerns for Latino Hoosiers remain education, economy

2013-02-15T00:00:00Z Chief concerns for Latino Hoosiers remain education, economyBy Danny Lopez nwitimes.com
February 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A 2012 study released by the Pew Research Hispanic Center noted that despite a continual onslaught of reports to the contrary in the mainstream media, Latinos continue to express a deeper concern for a variety of issues related to education and the overall state of the economy than they do about immigration matters. The report, issued last August just prior to the primary elections, reinforced an earlier study conducted in 2008 that yielded similar results. This latest iteration stressed that “education, jobs and the economy and healthcare are the top issues for Hispanic registered voters.”

These results, though not shocking to people who understand the complexities and heterogeneity of America’s Latino community, undoubtedly surprised many “experts,” who continually use immigration-related topics as wedge issues for political advancement and manipulation. This approach belittles the progress made by Hispanics across the United States and is an insulting and transparent political ploy. Moreover, it is simply not in line with the set of priorities to which most Latinos clearly relate.

While we all recognize the solutions to our statewide challenges lie in our ability to educate our children, many of our families in Indiana lack basic academic foundations so critical to realizing positive long-term outcomes. While only 11 percent of Hispanic students currently enrolled in Indiana’s public schools have mothers holding at least a bachelor’s degree, a whopping 39 percent of our community’s students have mothers holding less than a high school diploma.

A review of statistics concerning working-age Latinos in our state reveals largely similar trends. Of the nearly 189,000 Latinos in Indiana above the age of 24, only 22,000 have attained a four-year degree. More staggering still, nearly 73,000 have yet to receive high school diplomas or GEDs. To be sure, this problem is not exclusive to Latinos, so the fact that Gov. Pence has made workforce development, career and technical education and collaboration with private sector partners -- and expansion of educational options -- such a central part of his plan is an important step in helping Indiana students and workers bridge the skills gap.

Our Latino community is an extremely young one, and for this reason we can be optimistic about our ability to unlock our communal capacity. The average age of a Latino Hoosier is 24, and more than 19 percent of our population is currently enrolled in our schools. More than 65 percent of Latinos are native-born American citizens, and a large majority of those are younger than 18. Anyone who has spent any time at all with young Latino groups understands the vibrancy and passion with which challenges are met head on. Channeling that energy to address our state’s most serious and immediate concerns will yield in short order great strides in reversing so many of the statistics I’ve listed here.

Most Latinos, as national polling consistently demonstrates, understand this and care most deeply for the issues they know will determine the continued growth and prosperity of our entire population. We boast many business, civic, and education leaders who are doing incredible work to address our most pressing statewide challenges, both Latino-related and otherwise, though these folks rarely get the kudos they deserve. Instead, so much local media attention is given to immigration-related topics, issues that can only be appropriately solved in a comprehensive way at the federal level.

Danny Lopez is special assistant to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and executive director of the Indiana Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs. The opinions are the writer's.

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