While Immigration Reform Is Used As A Political Football, Hispanics Are Quietly Driving The U.S. Economic Engine

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Posted: Mar 20, 2019 3:00 PM
While Immigration Reform Is Used As A Political Football, Hispanics Are Quietly Driving The U.S. Economic Engine

Source: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

In early March, the Latino Coalition held their yearly Legislative Summit in Washington, DC, and the special guest speaker during the lunchtime portion of the day-long event made a remark during his speech that had the Park Hyatt meeting room erupt in applause.

The speaker was Vice President Mike Pence, who enjoys a warm relationship with both the Coalition and The Job Creators Network (JCN), co-hosts of the summit. What he said was this (emphasis added):

Latino-owned businesses employ more than 2 million Americans and contribute nearly half a trillion dollars to our economy every year.

[T]he President said not long ago, in his words, “The Latino community embodies the pioneering spirit of America.” We believe that’s why Hispanic Americans are starting new businesses at nearly three times the national average.

In fact, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business released its 2018 State of Latino Entrepreneurship Report in January and showed that Latino businesses had grown more than any other demographic group. In 2012, for example, there were 3.3 million businesses in the U.S. owned by Latinos, a growth of 46 percent from 2007. The number of white-owned businesses during the same period actually declined by 6 percent, topping out at 19 million businesses.

In short: because it’s long been known that small businesses are a primary engine of the economy — they accounted for 1.9 million net new jobs according to a 2018 report from the Small Business Administration — Latinos are helping in huge ways to keep that engine running well.

None of this is surprising to leaders of the Latino Coalition or the Job Creators Network, who say that optimism in the Latino community has been growing since Congress passed the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the Trump administration declared America “open for business.”

“We went through a period of what I call ‘negative entrepreneurialism’,” says Alfredo Ortiz, president and CEO of JCN, a small-business group that lobbies for policies that remove the influence of government on the economic sector. “Past years’ summits haven’t been as enthusiastic as this year’s was. A lot of the new enthusiasm is because of this administration’s policies that cut red tape, and reduced taxes and regulation. The economy has picked up for everybody. Which is why you’ll see, if you look at a recent NPR/Marist poll, that Trump’s approval rating has grown 18 points and is now at 50 percent.”

The optimism is available to be shared by all U.S. citizens because Latino-owned businesses contribute a staggering $700 billion annually to the U.S. economy, says Luis Farias, executive director of the Latino Coalition.

“By 2020, that number is expected to grow to $773 billion,” he says. “That’s exciting for us. And the amazing thing is, about 44 percent of those businesses are owned by Latinas. Hispanic women are owning businesses at a growth rate not seen in other demographic groups. Latinos are helping to re-energize the economic fabric of our country, and that could make a difference in the very long term.”

Hector Barreto, Chairman of the Latino Coalition, says some of the growth spurred by Latinas is related to differences in financial help offered to women in the Latino community, and to the fact that Latinas are seeking educational opportunities their male counterparts may not seek.

All of which speaks to a general entrepreneurial spirit within the Latino community, which Barreto says is crucial as the U.S. continues talks with Mexico and Canada on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, or the USMCA. The Trump administration-led agreement will, if passed, supplant NAFTA and, says Barreto, has a new provision that deals with small and medium size enterprises that will ultimately allow small business owners the ability to reap more of the benefits from conducting international trade.

“I was just in Mexico yesterday and met with the Mexican president,” Barreto says. “And he told me that the perception that Mexico and the U.S. are at loggerheads is simply untrue. He said the two countries are cooperating behind the scenes well, and that if the USMCA takes a long time to get a vote, or is never passed at all, that would be a disaster for all three nations.”

Barreto says the issue of trade isn’t the only political football related to the Latino community that gets tossed around, to the detriment of both the community itself and the U.S. in general. The often-polarizing issue of immigration reform is also something Latinos generally support, which explains, says Ortiz, the obviously warm reception the Vice President received as a speaker.

“The Latino community appreciates the new economic policies, as well as policies that are being implemented to keep us safer,” he says, referring to the human trafficking and drug trade said to be occurring at the southern border. “MS-13 gang members, for example, who are actually adults, pass off as high schoolers and go into the high school system where they recruit kids to sell drugs. These are children of the Latino community. So anything that helps that community be safer, they appreciate that. That's where Democrats I think got Florida wrong with [newly elected Republican Governor] Ron DeSantis, who was very strong on securing the border.”

“Immigration is a net plus for our country,” says Barreto. “That’s just backed up by the numbers. But we have to have some kind of reform. And it’s a perennial issue. We haven’t had real immigration reform since Reagan. We can literally put people on the moon but we don’t have the ability, and this is both parties, to come to some kind of consensus on what makes sense for common sense immigration policy that not only helps our economy but also keeps our country safe."