As the political campaign season heats up, candidates are engaging in the now familiar debate about immigration reform and creating paths to citizenship for immigrants. The debate is very tangible for many in the Latino community - its outcome will determine whether families can stay together, how children will grow up and where people can work.
This focus on legal citizenship is important, but it's only part of the story. For Latinos, obtaining full economic citizenship is just as critical.
Regardless of their legal status, far too many hard-working Latinos are operating outside of the financial mainstream. Nearly half of Hispanic households in the United States have no or limited access to traditional banking services, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Almost one in five have no bank account at all. Instead, these financially underserved Latinos rely on costly alternative financial services like check-cashing centers and money orders. As a result, they are more vulnerable to fraud and theft, and have no access to modern conveniences like electronic bill pay or the online marketplace.
The good news is that, unlike legal citizenship, achieving full economic citizenship doesn't have to wait for politicians to act. Economic citizenship - full financial inclusion in the U.S. and world economy - is available to every Latino. All that's needed are the right financial tools and educational outreach.
Advancements in electronic payment technology, in particular, are making low-cost tools more widely available, helping Latinos and other financially underserved individuals become first-class economic citizens. For example, a growing number of employers are giving their employees the option to be paid with a payroll card instead of a paper check, allowing them to save the money and time that they would otherwise have to spend to cash their paycheck. Payroll cards also serve as an entry point for the unbanked to receive the benefits of electronic payments, often for the first time.
The challenge is getting these technologies into the hands of people who need them and helping them understand how to use them to their benefit. I've been working for years to bring financial empowerment to the Latino community and to help them become fluent in the most important language in the United States and the world - money. My goal is to meet people where they are and show them how to move up. So I'm pleased to be working with Master Your Card: Oportunidad, a community empowerment program sponsored by MasterCard.
Recently, I spoke at the League of United Latin American Citizens' (LULAC) National Convention about making full economic citizenship a reality. Master Your Card is working with organizations like LULAC to help Latinos navigate this journey by educating them about the financial tools that are available and how to use them to join the financial mainstream, build wealth, and save time and money.
I encourage all Latinos to join me in the fight for economic citizenship. The debate over immigration reform and legal citizenship may drag on, but with the right tools and education, full economic citizenship - and the American dream - are within reach.