Latinos and the American Dream

My abuelos both came from Mexico to the United States because they believed that America was the greatest country in the world.  One was a mechanic, the other a construction worker, both among the hardest workers around.

Growing up, my abuela told me that my grandfather would go to work tired, sick and hurt, simply because he had children to feed.  Once, he worked in the snow with a broken leg carrying produce from the back of a truck into a warehouse.  The other worked in 110 degree weather shoveling asphalt to ensure that his family of five had food on the table. My abuelos’ work ethic inspired their children to become successful professionals including business owners, engineers and doctors.  They are now productive role models contributing to the greatness of our country.

My grandparents’ story is a perfect example of the American dream and a direct refutation to Donald Trump’s noxious statements that Mexico is sending rapists, murderers and criminals to the United States and not much else.

The subtext of Trump’s noxious statements is that the more Latinos and immigrants come to America the more it declines in greatness. Trump’s argument is not just insulting rhetoric, but it is simply not based in fact.  A perusal of the role of Latinos and immigrants on America’s economy provides strong evidence of just how wrong Trump and other conservatives are about our contributions to America.

Over the last ten years, Latino representation has increased in number and proportion in the United States.  During this time overall economic health has not declined but improved.  America’s economic standing, is healthy and Latinos and immigrants are contributing. Scapegoating immigrants and Latinos is nothing new, it is common during economic downturn.  The irony here is that while our economy is not perfect, we are actually in the middle of an economic upswing.

In 2014, America had the best jobs year since the halcyon economic boom time of the late 1990’s. Furthermore, many do not realize in 2014, the unemployment rate dipped below 5%, nearing what most economists consider “full employment.” Currently, unemployment is down by half from its peak of 10% in 2009 and a majority of U.S. households enjoyed healthy income gains in 2013 and 2014.  Overall unemployment is currently lower than at any point in the Ronald Reagan administration. In fact, Americans experienced average wage increases of 2.5% and saw their paychecks go up too.

Far from being the economic nuclear wasteland depicted by Trump and other conservatives, America’s economy has improved greatly over the last eight years.  As for our community, far from hurting America’s economic growth, Latinos and immigrants are helping to improve it. Hispanics are becoming more educated, with their college enrollment between the ages of 18 to 24 more than tripling from 1996 to 2012, according to Pew Hispanic Research.   As a result, Latinos’ share of new entrants into the civilian labor force reached 20 percent in white and gray collar jobs.  Which is to say that far from being drains on the work force we are working.

Latino employment is increasing faster than all other groups, our strong work ethic and work contributions have helped drive the overall unemployment down. Hispanic households made more income progress in 2013 and 2014 than any other group.  Latinos are hard workers who contribute both spending power, labor output and business growth.  We contribute $1.5 trillion in buying power to the U.S. economy.  By 2019, Latinos will account for 10.6% of total U.S. buying power.  Latino workers will account for 40% of employment growth in next 5 years.  Most importantly, immigrants and Latinos helped drive an uptick in new business creation, according to a measure of 2014 U.S. startup activity.

It is not just Latinos who are making our economy stronger, undocumented immigrants contribute significantly to state and local taxes, collectively paying an estimated $11.64 billion a year.  Contributions range from almost $2.2 million in Montana with an estimated undocumented population of 4,000 to more than $3.1 billion in California, home to more than 3 million undocumented immigrants.

All of this data points to a simple irrefutable fact, Latinos and immigrants are contributing in very meaningful ways to America’s greatness.

My grandfathers were proud of what they accomplished in their lifetimes. They had limited English skills but made their dreams come true by helping their children get college educations.  They were simply immigrants, who came to this country because they wanted better lives for their children. Their lessons and legacy were to teach us the value of hard work, education and dignity. They are the embodiment of what makes America great.

America’s melting pot has always created some level of anxiety and nativism in the conservative movement. There is no excuse for fear mongering and scapegoating, especially since there is little evidence to substantiate the ideas that America is in decline, or that Latinos and immigrants are hurting our country.

Regardless of Trump’s baseless comments about Latinos and immigrants, our economy is strong because of the contributions of the Latino community.  Next time you hear Trump or anyone else denigrating Latinos and immigrants, you tell them we contribute mightily and  deserve respect.

By Kristian Ramos