Expanding The Power of U.S. Latinos

The Wall Street Journal: The Candidates’ Missing Economic Message

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The Candidates’ Missing Economic Message
Focusing on small businesses could be a big vote-getter, with Hispanics especially.

March 10, 2016
By: Hector Barreto

The economic engine of America is still its 27 million small businesses. Why aren’t any of the presidential candidates tapping into the powerful message of economic opportunity that small business offers?

For candidates struggling to attract Hispanic votes, small business could be a particularly effective and optimistic subject. It would also be a reprieve from the often divisive rhetoric about immigration-an issue that, right now, isn’t even breaking into the top five issues of importance to Hispanic voters.

According to a Univision poll, more than half of Hispanic voters consider the economy and jobs as the No. 1 issue of importance. A Jan. 8 Bureau of Labor Statistics report said the unemployment rate among Hispanics is higher than the national average, at 6.3%. One in four Hispanics have been without work for 27 weeks or more.

wsj articlePhoto: Getty Images/ Ikon Images

Like most Americans, Hispanics understand and appreciate the economic opportunity that small business offers, both to entrepreneurs themselves and to their employees. Small businesses traditionally create two-thirds of the net new jobs  in this country, an important fact for any group of voters who are worried about jobs.

All this is missing from the presidential race. Why aren’t candidates competing to be the best small business advocate? And why aren’t any of them addressing the disturbing fact that fewer people want to start businesses than ever before?

Business startups in this country used to outpace business closures by about 100,000 businesses a year. Starting in 2008 the opposite became true: The number of businesses opening each year plummeted, and business closures now outpace business openings.

No one has proven the cause of this decline. But business owners I have talked to repeatedly raised one issue: The government is failing to create an environment where entrepreneurs want to take a risk.

When I served in government, we believed that it was not our responsibility to create businesses and jobs, but instead to create an environment to foster entrepreneurship. As Ronald Reagan used to quip, the only difference between a small business and a big business was, essentially, government’s role: If government would get out of the way, a small business could become a big business.

Too little attention has been paid this presidential year to the crucial role that new businesses play in getting the economy, and the number of new jobs, to grow faster.

This missing small business message is especially puzzling to many Hispanic Americans who have watched immigrant parents realize their American dreams through business ownership. Being an entrepreneur-in a country where entrepreneurs have opportunities unlike any other-meant that my Mexican immigrant father, Hector V. Barreto Sr., was able to rise from being a farmworker, railroad worker and meatpacking-plant worker, to running multiple businesses, founding the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and advising presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

My father’s story is inspiring, but not unique. The opportunity to start, own and run one’s own business-and thus to liberate and define yourself-has inspired generations of new Americans to come to the U.S. and make a better life for themselves and their families. Yet politicians today spend more time with big business leaders than with small business owners like my father.

My message to all presidential candidates: Listen to small business. Listen to entrepreneurs, and to those in economically challenged populations who hope to become business owners. They’ll be listening to you, and they’ll be deciding whether you earn their vote.

– Mr. Barreto is Chairman of The Latino Coalition and was Administrator of the Small Business Administration, 2001-2008. 

Cited From: The Wall Street Journal

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