What an interesting time to be Hispanic in the U.S. While I certainly believe that the best is yet to come for Latinos in this country, I’m candidly not always sure whether we are living in the best of times, or the worst of times, for people with names like mine.
On the one hand, we can be proud to hail from the same group as Salma Hayek, Sonia Sotomayor, Oscar de la Renta, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Sammy Sosa, Oscar Muñoz, Oscar de la Hoya, Marco Rubio and so many more whose names are synonymous with success in the world of art, government, business, sports and more.
Being a Latino also means being part of the demographic group that everyone is talking about, watching and marketing to. And no wonder. We are economically powerful, and that power is growing. There are more than four million Hispanic-owned businesses in America, with more than $660 billion in combined annual revenue. Latinos are expected to contribute over $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy, overall, by 2020. Our purchasing power alone is around $1.5 billion.
And of course, every candidate for office is hoping to attract a critical percentage of our votes. This provides an outstanding opportunity for Latinos to be more vocal about what matters to us (hint: it’s not immigration so much as it is the economy, education and health care).
On the other hand, the issue of illegal immigration, heated up by election-year rhetoric, has caused our community to be maligned. A survey by the Latino Donor Collaborative recently found that most non-Hispanic, white Americans with a moderate view of the Latino community do not believe that Latinos share their American values. This research also found a perception that nearly half of us are undocumented immigrants (in spite of the fact that only 16 percent of us are, according to the Pew Research Center).
While misguided perceptions like this can be painful, some realities are far more so:
According to the U.S. Senate Joint Economic Committee, almost 30 percent of Latino children live in a food-insecure household, and the median income of Hispanic households is $42,500 – about $18,000 less than the median income of non-Hispanic white households. We are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-Latino white Americans and lag behind non-Latino white in education, income and wealth.
The one unambiguous beacon of hope among all of this information is Hispanic American’s entrepreneurial streak. I’m especially proud of the fact that Hispanic-owned businesses are growing at 15 times the national growth rate, and that Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely than the general population to become entrepreneurs. That’s a big deal for Latinos and for all Americans, because our nation is in dire need of more business creation, with business dynamism in a state of dangerous decline since 2008.
The propensity to start and grow a business may, in some cases, be related to Latino’s immigrant roots. For example, small-business ownership has always been a way of life in my family. My father, an immigrant from Mexico, started his American Dream in jobs that included janitor, but, like many immigrants, business ownership was always his goal. It became the vehicle through which he improved his own life, the lives of his family, and of the people he employed.
Having watched my father start and run businesses made me more likely to eventually do so myself. And I hope I am passing this entrepreneurial example on to my children.
Regardless of the “why” behind Latino’s inclination toward entrepreneurship, all who want the best for our community would do well to celebrate, foster and encourage it.
At a meeting here in Washington, D.C. this week, members of The Latino Coalition will gather to talk about the opportunities and challenges of business ownership. Members of Congress will have an opportunity to hear, first hand, what is on the mind of leading members of the Latino business community.
Elected officials can expect to be inspired by our success, but also to hear our unvarnished perspective on the environment our government is creating.
Entrepreneurs today are discouraged by a government that doesn’t appear to understand us. Thanks to high individual taxes rates and health care costs, and a never-ending flow of one-size-fits-all regulations, the small-business community (Hispanic or otherwise) view Washington, D.C as an opponent, not an advocate.
Income and poverty statistics can be turned around by the power of business ownership – my father’s story proves that fact. Improving the environment for small business is essential if we are to turn the Latino community into an unambiguous American success story. The best American leaders will know and speak to this truth. In turn, they will be rewarded with far more than Latino votes – they will actually play a role in Latinos, and America’s, economic recovery and future success.
Barreto is the Chairman of The Latino Coalition and the former U.S. Small Business Administrator.
Cited: The Hill