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Carmen Ortiz-McGhee Headshot

Fool's Gold: Why the numbers aren't telling the real story.

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Fool's Gold is largely defined as having a false sense of wealth or treasure. I am reminded of this whenever I hear the incessant reference to demography as the magic potion that will unburden Latinos from the numerous challenges we face. Let's take a look at some of the numbers that are used to quantify the vibrancy of the Latino community in our nation.
Latinos will comprise 30% of the U.S. population by 2050
By 2008, 1 in 4 children under the age of 5 was Latino
Between 2009 and 2010 there was a 24% increase in college enrollment among U.S. born Latinos
In 2010 Latino buying power was valued at just under $1 trillion
There are 12million Latinos registered to vote
There are 50 million Latinos in the United States today
• In the US Census Bureau's 2007 Small Business report it was estimated that there were 2.3 million Latinos businesses in the United States, and they comprised the fastest growing segment of small business in our country

These numbers are certainly encouraging. At first blush they seemingly portend a bright future for Latinos in the United States. By all of these measures most Latinos will soon be living the American Dream.

Or will we? There is another set of more ominous numbers that offer an entirely different picture.

• The U.S. born Latino drop-out rate is twice as high as that of their white counterparts, and this number doubles to 30% when you include foreign-born Latino students which comprise 35% of the Latino student population.
37% of all children living under the poverty line are Latino
• Despite representing only 14.8 percent of the US civilian labor force, Latinos make up a disproportionate 18.9 percent of the total unemployed in the US
Only 15% of Latino students are proficient in Math

Let us layer the demographic projection of Latinos comprising 30% of US population in 2050 and only 15% being proficient in math today. In 2050 terms, that means that of the 438 million Latinos projected to live in this country only 65.7 million will be math proficient. Taken collectively, these trends are a gathering storm on the horizon, threatening to create a multi-generational underclass in America.

Despite the progress in the quality of life and the level of achievement the Latino community has enjoyed, these numbers tell us that we have been looking in the wrong direction. While the first set of numbers is quite exciting, the second set renders the first nearly irrelevant, because at this rate we will not broadly participate in the future economic well-being of our nation. If we view demography and population growth as the answers, we will be no different than the gold miners of the past, carrying in our dustpans shining trinkets that possess no wealth.

So it is time to come together as a united Latino community and devise a strategy to address to these issues. It is incumbent upon us to put aside nationalistic differences, ideological chasms and harvest the full breadth of our American Latino intellectual capital and create Un Nuevo Futuro for our communities across this nation, so that when 2050 does arrive, we will welcome it with cheers and songs of exultation that we have built a productive, well-prepared, contributing segment of the U.S. population; that our children are graduating in greater numbers than in decades before, not less; that our people are contributing robustly to the economic well-being of our nation; that Latinos are representing an ever-increasing number of scientists, senators, engineers, doctors, investors, teachers and F500 CEOs, not a shrinking one.

With these goals in mind, I propose a gathering that brings together a strategic group of some of the most successful leaders across all segments of American life: Entrepreneurs, Money Managers, Corporate Executives, Political Leaders, and Non-Profit Executives. The gathering would be called, "The State of the American Latino: Un Nuevo Futuro". The purpose of this gathering would be to address the three largest challenges Latinos face in this nation and to craft a plan to address each one using the influence and platform that each of these groups of leaders has.

There should be rules for this gathering:

1. While our cultural differences are beautiful and should be celebrated, for the purposes of this gathering when we enter these doors, we will all be simply Latino with a shared vision and purpose.

2. Egos and personal agendas are to be left at the door. They have no place here.

3. Lest we confuse articulation of the issues with crafting solutions for them, once the issues have been quantified, the discussion will be solutions driven only. We will not complain about how bad things are or continue to be. This gathering is for forward thinking problem solvers.

4. Each individual in the room agrees to be responsible for a set of deliverables and to be held accountable for the successful execution of those deliverables.

5. We will create feasible strategies to address and improve the concerning trends that brought us here. We will leverage our personal influence and access, intellectual and political acumen to get these things done...because our country and our children, and their children need it.

This gathering would not be for the faint of heart, but it would be for those who understand that to whom much has been given, much is expected. It would be for those who understand that they have a responsibility to ignore the white noise of divisive and negative dialogue and use all the resources at their disposal to create positive change for their people and for their country. It would be for those who aspire to leave this place better than it was when they arrived, to reverse the negative trends impacting American Latinos and all Americans.

Who is up for the challenge?