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A New Look at How Latinos Are Powering the U.S. Economy: Report

Instead of looking at U.S. Latinos as consumers, a new report calculates Hispanics' economic production and its key role in the country's economic outlook.
Employee working in the Puerto Rican shoe store Novus during the Holiday season in Pembroke Lakes Mall in Pembroke Pines, Florida.
Employee working in the Novus shoe store during the holiday season at the Pembroke Lakes Mall in Pembroke Pines, Florida.Carmen Sesin

A new report puts a price tag on the Latino population in the United States, and it is over two trillion dollars. This economic power, says the report, would rank as the 7th largest in the world if the Latino GDP (Gross Domestic Product) were its own country.

Headed by University of California, Los Angeles Professor David E. Hayes-Bautista, and Werner Schink, CEO of Latino Futures Research, the report commissioned by the non-partisan group Latino Donor Collaborative estimates the total GDP of the Latino population based on data that is publicly available at the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Labor.

In a discussion with NBC News over the phone, Hayes-Bautista said that most studies on Latino economic power look at Hispanics one-dimensionally, through their spending power. But by looking at Latinos beyond consumption and instead through their economic production, Latinos’ contribution to the nation can be seen more as an investment than an expense.

“I’ve been studying Latinos for over 40 years, and you can point out some amazing things about Latinos, but people just yawn. But if you reframe Latinos in terms investors can understand, by size and growth rate, we can have a better idea of Latinos' importance in the U.S. economy," said Hayes-Bautista, professor of medicine and director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the School of Medicine, UCLA.

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According to the report, “The U.S. Latino GDP is growing 70 percent faster that the country’s non-Latino GDP.”

For instance, 70 percent of the growth in our workforce is Latino. In the 75 years he has reviewed data, said Hayes-Bautista, Latinos have consistently ranked at the top, with the highest labor force participation rates.

Another common misperception around the country, the report finds is that non-U.S. citizen Latinos do not participate in the work force as much as other populations. In fact, male Latino non-citizens have an extremely high work force participation rate, over 90 percent for young mature workers aged 25 to 49.

Hayes-Bautista has spent his professional career dispelling myths about Latinos, and working in California, first at Stanford and then at UCLA, he has seen how the Hispanic population has changed over the decades. Our perception of Latinos is based on an old model, he explained.

Immigration since the 1990s has effectively ceased being the largest factor in the demographic growth of the Latino population. “Immigrant growth has been fading out, and their kids are taking over, the millennials and post millennials are going to be driving our economy,” he said.

When you look at burgeoning cities throughout the country since the 1970s, Latinos have revitalized or saved those regions from massive decline as the non-Latino white population ages.

Hayes-Bautista said that misperceptions about Latinos evoke policies under false assumptions that ultimately do more harm than good for the nation as a whole.

“Latinos work more hours, work less in the public sector, and have the lowest rates of welfare utilization," Hayes-Bautista said. Yet despite their low relative burden to taxpayers, “their reward is the highest level of poverty in the nation.”

If the U.S. realized how vital Latinos are to the future of the United States, there would be greater investment in education, infrastructure, job training, and health care, rather than a constant flow of negative messaging about gangbangers, Hayes-Bautista said.

The report’s takeaway is that the country's economic future depends on the interconnectedness between ethnicities and generations.

“The ability of the baby boomers to retire and use their benefits, such as health care and their investment portfolio," said Hayes-Bautista, "depends on Latinos."

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