By Orlando J. Rodriguez
Latinos have a staggering amount of economic clout in their pocketbooks.
There are 50 million Latino consumers with $1.3 trillion in buying power nationwide, according to the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility. Latino buying power is expected to increase even further to $1.5 trillion nationwide by 2015. As a single economic group, Latinos in the U.S. would roughly equal the 14th largest economy in the world, which is smaller than Canada’s economy and larger than Spain’s.
In Connecticut, the Latino population grew by 50 percent during the last decade and is currently 14 percent of the state’s population, while the non-Latino white population has declined in numbers. An even more startling demographic shift for Connecticut is that during last decade the state’s non-Latino white population had more deaths than births. If we look to population growth to spur economic growth, then the state’s growing Latino population can be an economic windfall.
Now consider that although Latinos are 16 percent of the nation’s population and 10 percent of its corporate workforce, only 5 percent of corporate board seats and only 3 percent of executive officers are Latinos. Latino absence from the corporate halls of power must change if Latinos are going to make widespread economic gains that will translate into long-term economic growth for Connecticut and the U.S.
Corporations have a large influence in what federal and state governments consider important and worth doing. Voting can get pro-Latino candidates elected but corporations influence the behind-the-scenes political bargaining of what actually gets done. Corporations can create new jobs in a struggling urban area or move existing jobs elsewhere and plunge an area into economic ruin. Corporate boards and their high-level executives can have more influence over the economic well being of an area, and its residents, than politicians do. The economic decline of Detroit shows what can happen to a local economy when corporate leaders decide to move jobs elsewhere.
Latinos are hardworking but there are not enough of them with the education and professional credentials to rise to the top of the corporate ladder. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that, nationwide, the percentage of Latinos who are either working or looking for work is higher than for Asians, blacks, and whites. Among working-age men, the percentage of working Latino men is also the highest. However, only 7 percent of Latinos are in the highest paying professions of management, business, and finance, which is lower than among Asians, blacks, and whites. Too many Latinos in the prime of their careers simply can’t get there from here.
How does the future look? Latinos with a college education have a greater likelihood to influence corporate America, but only if they pick career paths that can lead to the corporate boardroom. Latinos are increasingly entering technical and business fields that can lead to high-level executive positions. Biological engineering and international business are the two most common college majors for Latinos. However, three of the 10 top majors among Latinos are psychology-related, which are not likely to lead to the corporate penthouse.
We see many Latinos choosing careers as teachers, social services workers and in health care, which reflects a culture centered on the importance of family, community and relationships. This suggests that Latinos need to become more aware of the importance that corporations have in their day-to-day lives. We need many more young Latinos who want to improve the neighborhoods they came from by choosing professions that influence where corporations create middle-class jobs and the government policies corporations consider important. We need future Latino executives who will cause corporations to realize it is in the corporation’s best interest to improve the lives of those 50 million (and growing) Latino consumers and raise the Latino economy in this country into the top 10 largest economies in the world while creating millions of new middle-class jobs for all Americans.
Connecticut would do well to seek out smaller corporations that are both targeting Latino consumers and filling their executive offices with Latinos to come to Connecticut and grow their workforce here.
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