THE BLOG
03/12/2012 07:32 am ET Updated May 12, 2012

An Economic Recovery That Doesn't Leave Hispanics Behind

At a critical juncture in our economic recovery; we are faced with competing plans for future growth one of investment and the other of austerity. The Republican Party has embraced cutting taxes for the rich and austerity as a model for future growth, while Democrats favor investment in our country as means of creating jobs and infrastructure. While these battle lines are well known, what is of note is the way in which the Republican Party's embrace of austerity over investment highlights a fundamental difference in priorities for growth between Parties and underscores the GOP's current unwillingness to invest in Hispanics and other low income communities hit hardest by this past recession.

The GOP austerity plan misses some serious facts regarding the plight of low income communities and belies a serious flaw in message for what their vision of economic recovery for our country should entail. Here are the facts: our economy is slowly recovering, yet for Hispanics and other low income groups including working class Americans, unemployment levels are still high. Getting this segment of our labor force back to work is vital to U.S. economic recovery. Hispanics comprise a large part of the low skilled labor market, making up over 20% of workers in construction, food industry and farming sectors. Infrastructure investment is an investment in low income communities who have been hit hardest by the recession including Hispanics. The GOP austerity plan, in the long run would disproportionately affect low income communities who have already been hurt by downturns in the economy.

Earlier this year President Obama announced an ambitious $476 billion plan to invest in transportation and infrastructure projects in states over six years. This plan was dead on arrival, mostly due to Republican concerns over cost and calls for austerity. Congress is currently moving a $109 billion transportation bill which would increase infrastructure spending at a less ambitious rate but still with the goal of creating 2 million more jobs in infrastructure spending.

While the Senate GOP have been welcome to working on this, the Tea Party wing of the House caucus has roundly derided this approach to job creation calling it egregious overspending. Yet they have not proposed any less costly or more effective alternatives. Their plan does include a new FDA approval processes, patent reform,
and tax code reform; slim pickings for the American worker.

While the concept of austerity may provide a romantic notion that if Americans tighten their belts all our troubles would go away, the reality is that Americans have tightened their belts to the point of choking and actions which include job creation and economic growth are still desperately needed.
Investment in infrastructure development could be a mechanism to alleviate the unemployment of the hardest hit populations including Hispanics. A recent Senate Hispanic Task Force meeting led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Robert Menendez sought to highlight the importance of legislation that invests in working class Americans as a means to help struggling Hispanics. An investment by the federal government in infrastructure is an investment in the Hispanic community.

Senator Robert Menendez chairman of the Hispanic Task Force articulated this point: "While we have focused on proposals to help create jobs that would help unemployed Hispanic workers, Republicans have focused only on obstructing our efforts -- and Latinos have taken notice. This will have negative impact for them not only in the upcoming elections, but also on their efforts as a whole to reach out to and attract this growing constituency."

The evidence shows recent investments in infrastructure spending spurred job growth for sectors of the labor market which employ Hispanics and others in low income communities. The GOP, in objecting to infrastructure spending to contain costs, is ignoring some key facts. First, low income communities and states desperately need these funds to create jobs and remain solvent. Second, the size of this infrastructure package has already been reduced considerably from what the President asked for. Recent jobs data shows that there have been gains in the economy over the last three months, yet, the reality is that this economy is still fragile. Construction jobs continue to climb, up 2.5% over just three months ago, in a market where Hispanics represent 20% of the labor force.

A return to austerity is not going to help Hispanics, other low income communities or the country. The House Republican website contains a single sentence proclaiming the need for 'common sense, pro-growth policies to give small businesses and entrepreneurs renewed confidence in our economy and to remove Washington as the roadblock to job creation.' This wishful-thinking statement is not a plan for action, which is what Hispanics and others who have been afflicted by economic woes desperately need. The current legislation before Congress is by no means a silver bullet but at the end of the day investment in our country, is investment in the American people including Hispanics