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Report: Latinos’ Economic State Mixed, But Full of Potential

Image: U.S. flag hangs above the door of the New York Stock Exchange

A U.S. flag hangs above the door of the New York Stock Exchange August 26, 2015. Wall Street racked up its biggest one-day gain in four years on Wednesday as fears about China's economy gave way to bargain hunters emboldened by expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve might not raise interest rates next month. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson LUCAS JACKSON / Reuters

WASHINGTON, DC -- Among today's Latino population, there are signs of untapped potential as well as progress.

Three-quarters of those born in the U.S. have high school degrees compared to only half for foreign-born Hispanics, and Latinos are enrolling in college in greater numbers than any other group.

And while Latino purchasing power could reach $1.7 trillion in a few years, four-in-five Latino households have less than $10,000 in retirement savings, compared to half of white households who have more than $10,000.

The mixed picture of the economic status and progress of Latinos was detailed in a report assembled by Democrats of the congressional Joint Economic Committee and released Wednesday. The report was created at the request of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

"The point of this report is to say, we have triumphed, we have achieved so much … and, at the same time we need so much more," said Rep. José Serrano, D-N.Y.

It also presents a portrait of what's at stake for the country in terms of economic potential, lawmakers said.

"Whether people choose to recognize this or not, the success of our country depends on the success of (this) community," said Rep. Linda Sanchez, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Sanchez and other lawmakers said the numbers show the need for passage of legislation that Democrats have been pushing, increased minimum wage, closing of wage gaps between men and women and comprehensive immigration reform, although the report does not argue that.

Among some of the facts included in the report:

  • The Hispanic median income ($42,500) trails that of whites and Asians ($60,300 and $74,800).
  • Seventy-five percent of U.S. born Hispanics have graduated from high school and 14 percent have at least a bachelor's degree.
  • Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely than the general population to become entrepreneurs. However, because the share of Latino entrepreneurs who are low-income is double that of white entrepreneurs, Hispanic business owners must overcome large hurdles to be successful, including access to capital, and face high failure rates.
  • Latinos are less likely to be covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan. 12 percent of Hispanics have access to a defined benefit pension, half the rate of white and black households.
  • The median age of Hispanic immigrants is 40 years old. The median age for Hispanics born in the U.S. is 19. (According to Pew Research Center, 35 percent of the Hispanic population in the U.S. was foreign born in 2013, down from 40 percent in 2000.)

While the report points out many areas where the community lags behind the rest of the country, Latinos are already making progress on closing the gaps, said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic research for Pew Research Center, who reviewed the report for NBC News Latino.

"We've seen a surge in college attendance in recent years, and a greater share of Latinos are getting college degrees today compared with 10 years ago. That leaves room for optimism," he said.

The big challenge is "in how young Hispanics under 18 today will come of age, he said. "They will represent the largest segment of new job market entrants over the next four decades, which means their skills and contributions will play a key role in shaping the U.S workforce of this century," said Lopez.

Some things to consider about the Latino population, according to Lopez:

The surge in college enrollment among Latinos has outpaced college enrollment for any other groups and as a result, 19 percent of college students today are Latinos. That just about matches the 20 percent of 18-24 year olds nationally attending college. The surge is not just because of the growing number of young Latinos, but also the result of more Latinos graduating from high school.

But again, there are challenges. The poverty rate among Hispanic children is higher than whites or Asians, and below that of blacks.

This is key considering the relative youth of the population. Research shows that children raised in households at the bottom of the income scale are likely to stay there, according to the report by the Joint Economic Committee's Democrats.

The report also states that 30 percent of Latino children live in a food-insecure household and half of Latino children are likely to be raised in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution spectrum than as children in white households.

"I have a son Joaquin. He's 6 years old. He just started the first grade. He's the future of this country, but this is a group that's most likely to lose if we don't make those investments today," Sanchez said.

Democrats have been pressing for an increase in the minimum wage, changes to college costs and closing the gap in wages between men and women. Sanchez and others cited the report's data to call for passage of the Democratic legislation.

"As a nation of immigrants, it's alarming to see how much further we have to go to make sure all children can afford to go to college, own their own home and earn a secure retirement," said in a statement House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra. "My parents came from a generation where even without a college degree, they were able to send their four kids to college. I don't know how many construction workers and clerical workers today can still dream to send their kids to college, and this needs to change."

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