The baseline data titled One Minneapolis (2011) released by the Minneapolis Foundation and the Wilder Foundation a couple of weeks ago, reveals disturbingly persistent opportunity and well-being gaps between different racial/ethnic groups throughout their school, career, and employment path. The white population which represents a little bit more than two thirds of the total population (64 percent) fares much better in almost every socioeconomic indicator related to education, jobs, housing, and employment than the residents of color (36 percent).
In the case of Latinos(as), the indicators are bitter sweet. Latinos have lived in the Twin Cities area since the beginning of the twentieth century, and recent immigrants from Latin America, particularly from Mexico, the northern region of Central America and some countries of South America, started arriving at the beginning of the nineties. So it is fair to say that the majority of Latino residents, who represent 11 percent of the city’s population, are pretty well rooted in the largest city of the state.
The “average” Latino(a) resident fares relatively well only when compared to other minority groups. An important share of working-age adults are employed (75 percent) and children are less likely to live in poverty when compared to children in other racial groups. Latino(a) students tend to get suspended less frequently at school than other students, and parents seem to be very satisfied with the public school system. Overwhelmingly, students in grade eight report that most of their teachers teach in ways that make them want to learn (84 percent) compared to 69 percent for all students. They also also trust adults in their school to keep them safe: 84 percent say so compared to 79 percent of all students. And they have a better school attendance record in all grades (65 percent) compared with all students (59 percent).
However, when it comes to education success and economic stability, the picture is not encouraging. As we know, reading proficiency by the end of third grade is a predictor for future academic and life success. But Latino children, especially those who speak Spanish at home, are not ready to read in third grade. They do not graduate at the same pace and proportion than other students. Less than half of the Latino students who graduate from the Minneapolis Public Schools enroll in college immediately. Only about 1 in 10 Latino low-income households have affordable housing. And children with foreign-born parents are more likely to live in poverty (39 percent) than those Latinos(as) born in the US (21 percent). Another recent report by the Corporation for Enterprise Development finds similar racial disparities: while 35 percent of all Minneapolis households are asset poor, 63 percent of black and 56 percent of Latino residents do not have enough savings or wealth to meet their basic needs in the event of job loss or other emergency.
What these indicators show is that Latinos are hard-working people who support their families and communities in their path to get a good education and obtain good paying jobs, but structural barriers and inadequate policy put additional burdens on them in seeking this goal. They also have a shared trust in the public school system. However, the missing links to prosperity continue to be low paying jobs, insufficient early learning options, and the lack of affordable housing which, combined, create impediments (particularly for the foreign born) to securing economic stability beyond school.
Certainly the lack of college degrees is also hindering the majority from obtaining well-paying jobs that would secure a better future for their families, particularly those students who lack documents to obtain financial support and loans to continue their education, and then be able to work. Other reports also show the prevailing disparities in health care for Latinos for whom accessing affordable health care and health insurance is still a major challenge.
This data baseline needs to be taken into account when advocating and designing policy for Latinos(as) at the local and state level. We cannot repeat unfounded myths that Latino children and families do not value education and access to affordable health care. Three main recommendations might help: 1) expand early childhood education options for low income-families; 2) increase schools’ engagement and support to Latino families; 3) enact laws that secure affordable access to college, including the passage of the Dream Act.