Sitting a few steps away from a black marble memorial to his friend Mickey, who was stabbed to death two years ago at age 15, Ronald Ramos looks bewildered when asked why he didn’t take the SAT, seek financial aid and apply to college after graduating from high school.
“Parents don’t know what the system is here,” he says in an interview at Georgetown South, a Latino neighborhood in Manassas, Va. “We don’t know what to do.”
Hispanics such as Ramos are the fastest-growing component of America’s workforce. The country will need their taxes to help pay the Social Security benefits of retirees and their skills to fill jobs of baby boomers leaving the labor force. Today, Ramos, who is 18 and of Mexican descent, is looking for temporary work to help pay for college. If he fails, he risks joining the more than 80 percent of Latinos ages 25 and older who don’t have a bachelor’s degree.
The lack of educational attainment among Hispanics is one of the biggest crises in the American labor force, with far-reaching implications for the economy. Without more education, Hispanics won’t be able to fill higher-paying jobs, contributing to already widening U.S. income disparity. Without higher incomes, they won’t join the consumers that propel the earnings of U.S. companies ranging from Ford Motor Co. to Verizon Communications Inc. The unemployment rate for Hispanics was 10 percent in October, compared with 7.9 percent nationally.
“You can’t meet our national goals and our workforce needs without having a tactical plan for Latinos,” said Deborah Santiago, vice president of policy and research for Excelencia in Education, a Washington research organization that focuses on education of Hispanics. “This is just a factual statement given what the current population numbers are.”
Only 14 percent of Hispanics ages 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2011 compared with 51 percent for Asians, 20 percent for African-Americans and 34 percent for whites, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.