President Obama’s vision for the nation must include making the Latino community whole

LatinaLista.net — As the nation prepares to hear President Obama’s State of the Union Address tonight and speculation runs rampant as to what exactly he will say (though excerpts from the speech have been leaked out to the media already), it’s inevitable that he will use the speech, like his predecessors, to advance his vision for the country.

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However given the recent findings of the U.S. Census that show Latinos are changing the demographic make-up of the country, it’s the collective hope of most Latinos that President Obama, when sharing his vision for the country, keeps in mind that what happens to the Latino community will impact the nation in the future — for better or worse.

With more Latinos living at or below the poverty line; Latino students comprising the majority of high school dropouts and teenage pregnancies and unemployment impacting Latinos the most, any vision for the country must include fixing or creating new ways to address old issues that have relegated the majority of the Latino community to second-class citizen tier status.

A population that will be the majority of the future needs to have first-class educational opportunities, job training, and security, both financially and emotionally — starting now.

Several Latino organizations have outlined the pressing concerns that face the Latino community currently and need immediate attention to stave off a worst case scenario in the future.

The following are recommendations made to the President by The Hispanic Federation, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA):

Economic Empowerment: The recession and ongoing recovery has emaciated the economic security of the Latino community and widened economic gaps. Jobless rates increased faster for Latinos than for whites, while homeownership decreased faster.

Between 2009 and 2012, 1.3 million Latino families are expected to lose their homes to foreclosure. Two years ago today, Latino unemployment reached 9.2 percent and since then, joblessness among Latinos has escalated to 13.0 percent, 3.6 points above the national average (9.4%).

Latinos hold lower-quality jobs and earn less money per week relative to white and Asian-American workers and 25.3 percent of our community lives below the poverty line. To improve the economic wellbeing of the Latino community, alleviate poverty and reduce unemployment, Congress and the President must commit to target socially and economically disadvantaged communities in any plan for job creation.

Training investments to help dislocated workers gain the skills and credentials needed to acquire quality jobs and careers with family sustaining wages and opportunities for advancement should be the Nation’s top priority.

In states and localities with limited English proficient populations, programs must integrate job training with language and skills training. To protect the Latino workforce, it is critical that the Administration ensures adequate enforcement of workplace laws to reduce workplace safety, health and wage violations that disproportionately affect the welfare and economic advancement of Latino and immigrant workers.

Health Care: Historically, Latinos have had disproportionately low rates of health insurance. Socioeconomic status, educational attainment, cultural and linguistic differences, and racial and ethnic barriers have prevented Latinos from obtaining life-saving services through the public health system.

With the passage of the historic Affordable Care Act, all Americans will have a greater opportunity to obtain health coverage and access quality health care. Latinos in particular will benefit from increased preventative care and expanded access to the public health system, as nine million Latinos will be eligible to receive health coverage and exercise greater control over their own health care.

Currently, one in three Latinos have no access to health care or experience poor quality of care when they access the health care system; thus, the President should urge Congress to fully fund and implement the Affordable Care Act.

The elimination of health disparities is a priority for all communities of color and the Latino community encourages the President to call for the expansion of health initiatives that increase the racial and ethnic diversity of health care professionals as well as cultural competency training for health care providers.

Education: Data show that Hispanic students tend to underperform in reading and math when compared to their non-Hispanic peers. Amplifying the concern is the alarmingly high dropout rate of Latino youth. Only 53% of Hispanic students graduate in four years. To help bridge this gap and reduce the dropout rate, the Administration must provide significant additional resources to schools, support high expectations for Latino, migrant, and ELL student through a complete and thorough reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act this year.

In addition, 187 TRIO programs, funded through the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, will be eliminated if $57 million is not included in the FY 11 TRIO appropriation base, without this funding, 12,000 current Upward Bound students will lose their services before the next competition.

The President must urge Congress to fund federal education programs at sufficient levels, and encourage the development of open educational courses which will help ensure equal access to high quality resources. Funding education programs will raise school quality and close the achievement gap in educational outcomes between Latino students and others.

Immigration: A large majority of Americans recognize that our current immigration system is broken. The failure of the 111th Congress to pass meaningful reform that will provide a clear process for legal migration, mitigate the inequities and failures of our current immigration laws, and create a coherent strategy for addressing the labor and economic needs of our country while embracing our ‘nation of immigrants’ welcoming societal ethic leaves little legislative options that Congress will likely approve.

The President should announce a new approach to retooling our immigration administrative infrastructure in a manner that will reduce the backlog of current applicants for legal permanent residency (LPR) status, provide relief for those currently in the country without documentation until our immigration laws can be brought to conformity with the country’s current economic needs and values of family reunification, fairness, justice & equality for all, and continue to pursue those bad actor employers who exploit undocumented immigrants and perpetuate an underground economy of indentured workers.

This limited package of immigration reforms should include the DREAM Act and AgJobs legislation that has received strong bipartisan support as part of previous immigration proposals.

Social Security: Social Security is central to the economic security of all Latinos, young and old alike. For 75 years it has played a vital role in providing a safety net for the protection millions of retirees, disabled workers and aged widowers.

As the youngest and fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, Latinos stand to lose if Social Security benefits are cut. By 2050 Latinos will comprise 17.5% of the U.S. elderly population and on average, Latinos earn less than the average U.S. worker (median earnings of $30,000 compared to $40,000) limiting the benefits available to them during retirement and savings they can accrue.

Without Social Security, the poverty rate among Latino elderly would triple. Latinos are less likely to have an employment-based pension since 6 out of 10 whites over 65 have some type of retirement account while only 1 out of 10 Latinos over 65 have any type of retirement account at all.

To prevent an exacerbation of financial hardship in the Latino community, Congress and the President must protect Social Security and oppose privatization, benefit cuts and a raise in the retirement age.

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