What can be stated conclusively, therefore, is that lower levels of schooling, English proficiency, and work experience remain a serious impediment to Hispanics’ labor market success and, consequently, their ascent to the middle class. In 2000, for example, the 2-year average educational gap between all Hispanics and whites cost about $100 billion in lost earnings.14 Given the growth in the Hispanic populations that is projected to occur over the next 30 years, the cost of this education gap could rise to $212 billion in current dollars by 2030, taking into account the generational shift.
Unlike labor market disparities produced by discrimination, educational inequities can often be addressed directly through policy instruments. Closing Hispanics’ human capital gaps relative to whites would require early and sustained intervention at all levels of the educational system. The benefits of education are crucial for Hispanic youths, and they are also important for the nation. The temporal coincidence of a large Hispanic second generation and an aging white majority represents an opportunity to attenuate the consequences of the nation’s rising burden of old-age dependency. However, this opportunity will be short-lived because continued declines in Latin American fertility will not only alleviate labor pressures south of the border, but also shrink the migrant labor streams on which the U.S. economy has come to depend.15
As growing numbers of Hispanics join the labor force and replace white retirees, Hispanic workers should be able to attenuate labor shortages such as those experienced by other Western, industrialized countries. To mitigate the effects of the aging U.S. population on social security funds and Medicare, however, the productivity of young workers must be sufficient to compensate for a shrinking workforce.16
Because of their large numbers, relative youthfulness, and geographic dispersal, Hispanics can be expected to affect American society in profound ways even as they experience considerable transformation as a people. The shape their future will take remains highly uncertain, however. Much depends on whether newcomers from Latin America and long-established Hispanic residents join the ranks of the middle class and experience the social mobility that has characterized European immigrants, whether growing numbers of foreign-born Hispanics become citizens and come to express a political voice, whether the obesity among Hispanic children and