That Hispanics are coming of age in an aging society has important implications for the nation’s future. As the youngest segment of the U.S. population, second- and third-generation Hispanics could play a vital role in shouldering the burden of a graying society. Yet realizing this potential productivity boost will depend on whether the necessary educational investments are made. Such investments will determine whether these young people will acquire sufficient human capital—literacy, education, and job skills—to gain access to higher-skilled jobs and avail themselves of new opportunities for social inclusion. Also crucial will be new social policies that both promote their integration into social and political institutions and foster greater equity in economic arenas.
An emphasis in this report, then, is on the potential costs of underinvesting in the young Hispanic population, as well as the perils of allowing a large and growing undocumented population to live on the fringes of society. There currently exists a rising skill gap between Hispanics and whites. Although this gap is largely the product of the sizable number of low-skill immigrants, schooling trends among the native born contribute to it. Even as the number of Hispanic college graduates has reached an all-time high, thousands of native-born Hispanic youths are failing to complete high school. The high premium on skill in today’s labor market will magnify the deleterious consequences of Hispanics’ low educational attainment in the future. Indeed, low levels of formal schooling and poor English proficiency account for the large number of Hispanics in service-sector jobs, as well as their low average wages, relatively poor health status, and weak civic engagement.
This report is the product of a 2-year study by a panel of experts convened by the National Academies and supported by several foundations and U.S. government agencies. This panel was charged with conducting a study of the significant demographic changes taking place among the U.S. Hispanic population and their progress relative to the mainstream in several key areas. The panel could also consider ways to improve related data collection. The main purpose of the report is to help inform future policy debate and provide government, public institutions, and the private sector with the information needed to allocate resources for the enduring benefit of both the Hispanic population and the nation as a whole.
In the edited volume Hispanics and the Future of America that serves as the companion to this report, readers will find a more detailed review of Hispanics’ history, demography, geography, education, family, employment,