In 2017, Hispanics made up 17 percent of the U.S. labor force, compared to 13.5 percent in 2006. Despite the declining Hispanic unemployment rate and growing economy, a disparity in opportunity exists for this community.
Ignacio Salazar, President and CEO of SER - Jobs for Progress National, Inc.
, joins Nathalia Ortiz to discuss his organization’s efforts in preparing the next generation of Hispanic and minority workers for the future workforce.
Ortiz: The unemployment rate for Hispanic workers hit a record low in July -- 4.5%. Now, while the low rate is good news, the numbers don´t tell the full story. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Nathalia Ortiz. Joining me to discuss inequality in opportunity for Hispanics is Ignacio Salazar, President and CEO of SER, Jobs for Progress National, Inc. Ignacio, welcome to the program.
Salazar: Thank you so much for having me.
Ortiz: Thank you, and, so, we hear so much about this booming economy, low unemployment rates. Is it really as good as it sounds, and, specifically, how good is it for the Hispanic community in the nation?
Salazar: Well, I think if you just look at a number and you say, "Is that indicative of the health of the economy?" It´s a good number. However, the health of the economy does not relate to that number. In the Hispanic-Latino community, there´s a severe issue with underemployment and in overcategorized and low-paying jobs. And so while we´re working, we´re having to work one, two, and three jobs to make ends meet. The average salary, the mean for a family, is substantially lower than the average, and so, you know, we´re working harder and receiving less. And so that´s an issue. There´s also a problem that´s on the horizon, and that´s that we´re in the low-paying jobs. And the low-paying jobs -- 80% of those jobs that pay $20 an hour or less in the future could be automated, could be part of artificial-intelligence technology, and so there´s a huge problem on the horizon for us, as well, that we need to be aware of.
Ortiz: Ignacio, I know you also speak about an inequality of opportunity for the Hispanic population in the United States of America. Talk to us about what you mean by that.
Salazar: Well, you know, in the tech center, which is where everything is moving today, we´re less than 4% of the total population of the employment sector there, the higher-paying jobs, the jobs of the future, the jobs that are growing three times faster than any other kind of job. In the colleges and schools, we´re underrepresented, so we´re not being prepared, we´re not in the pipeline to assume those kind of jobs. And, also, when you look at the opportunities at the local level, our schools where our children go to school typically are not the ones where you find these kinds of camps and these kinds of initiatives being undertaken. And so we need to do more to prepare the future workforce.
Ortiz: So, what are you doing?
Salazar: So, we´ve taken on an initiative to become bigger and bolder in terms of how we do this, and we´re part of a national network of operators that deals in workforce development. But we also have connections deep into the community. And so we´ve taken on the initiative that we have to be involved with those schools in our local communities where 75% of the children are eligible for free and reduced-lunch programs that aren´t typically gonna hear about the opportunities. Even at our national conference last year, we had the opportunity to bring 1,500 kids to our conference and have a community day where we had a former astronaut tell them how he went from being a migrant farm worker to an astronaut in space and that these dreams are realistic. Give them the opportunity to dream big.
Ortiz: So, show them role models, give them hard, concrete examples of people who have done this so that perhaps they can strive or aspire to do the same thing. I know that, also, the STEM programs -- in other words, science, technology, engineering, and math -- are very big not just for the Hispanic community, but in general. It´s sort of like the direction we´re going with a lot of the jobs here in this country. And how does that impact the Hispanic community? What are we doing to help prepare them in terms of STEM?
Salazar: Well, you know, it really begins at the basic -- you know, from as early on as you can reach an individual. And so we´ve decided that we need to implement our programs throughout the country and develop early childhood education programs that from birth on, they´re being exposed to what the future is.
Ortiz: From birth? Wow.
Salazar: From birth. You know, from the time that they start early childhood education. And we have centers that do this, exposing them to how to do and how to relate to this future environment. And so it´s important that we do that because by the age of 3, the average Latino student, you know, child, future student hears 30 million fewer words than the average child. And so that´s a disadvantage. And to reduce that gap, we´ve got to make sure that we have early childhood education programs because only 3 of 10 Latino children are in early childhood education programs to begin with, but also make sure that they´re receiving the kind of training and education that leads them to the future.
Ortiz: The program was developed in 1964, and I´m curious to know if anything has changed in the offerings to the Hispanic community since that time, because I know we´ve obviously been around for that long in this country, but there´s also a lot of changes in the types of Hispanics, the demographics, the numbers, the countries they´re coming from. And so what do you have to say to us about that?
Salazar: Well, yes, we began in 1964, and, obviously it was a different era. You know, even 15 years ago was a different era.
Ortiz: Correct, yeah.
Salazar: I mean, 15 years ago, you didn´t know about the cloud and social media and those kinds of things that we hear today. And it´s changing dramatically. And so from our end, we´re forming relationships with corporations, forming partnerships, helping to bridge the gaps. We have to, at our end in education and training, be as fast as business and technology, otherwise we lose the war. And there´s a...coming where, you know, truck drivers and clerks and fast-food industry is going to be eliminated, and so where do these people go? They´ve got to be prepared for different kinds of occupations, and that´s our challenge.
Ortiz: Thank you so much. Ignacio Salazar with SER, Jobs for Progress National, Inc. Thank you for joining us.
Salazar: Thank you.
Ortiz: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Nathalia Ortiz.