Ariz.'s growing, youthful Latino population poses potential, challenges

2013-11-22T00:00:00Z Ariz.'s growing, youthful Latino population poses potential, challengesBy Ernesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

As the Latino population continues to increase in Pima County and in the state, it portends positive dividends for businesses seeking to grow. But at the same time, it poses a challenge for all Arizona residents, according to a report released Thursday by the Tucson and Arizona Hispanic chambers of commerce.

“This is more than numbers and charts,” said Gonzalo A. de la Melena Jr., president of the Arizona chamber. “It quantifies the role Latinos play.”

The role that Latinos will play with greater frequency and potentially with more influence will be seen in all sectors of the state’s social, political and economic sectors, said Loui Olivas, a professor emeritus in the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

“It’s not a prophecy. It’s about mathematics,” said Olivas, who led the study, “Datos Tucson 2013: The State of Arizona’s Hispanic Market.”

According to the report, Latinos in Pima County exercise a purchasing power in excess of $4.4 billion, part of the statewide Latino consumer spending of an estimated $43.3 billion this year. Nationally, that figure has reached $1.3 trillion and is expected to grow by 50 percent in the first half of this decade, the report said.

The growth in spending is fueled by the continuing upward shift of the Latino population, due to increased births and immigration. Moreover, Latinos represent a younger portion of the population, nationally and locally. Statewide, Latinos are about 30 percent of the population and climbing.

In Pima County in the last 12 years, Latinos accounted for 70 percent of the growth. As an example of the youthfulness of the Latino population, more than half of people in the county under 18 years old are Latino.

That growth is most clearly evident in Pima County’s public schools, which have seen a 72 percent jump in Latino students. In Arizona, 44 percent of all public school students are Latino.

With the growth comes challenges, the biggest being education, the report said. High school dropout rates remain persistently high, and college entrance rates remain low.

“Data also tell us Arizona is headed for a crisis unless we prepare our future workforce through education, skills, certification and college degrees, which as a state we are not doing at the level necessary to compete regionally, nationally and internationally,” the report said.

The repercussions will cost society billions of dollars in lost revenue and in the expense of providing support for a growing undereducated and underemployed population, said Luis Tavel, national director of Latino affairs at the University of Phoenix.

Challenges notwithstanding, the growth and vitality of the Latino population will propel business growth in the state, said the report. In addition, increased commerce with Sonora and the rest of Mexico will benefit the state’s economy. Mexico is Arizona’s top customer for state exports, which in 2012 totaled $18.4 billion, the report said.

Melena of the state chamber said if the state intends to compete in the global economy, “it must unlock the full potential of our communities, especially the Latino community, the fast-growing population in Arizona.”

Contact Ernesto Portillo Jr. at netopjr@azstarnet.com or at 573-4187.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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