When you think about Connecticut in ten years, quite possibly the biggest change will be "who" is living here. Latinos make up the largest and fastest growing ethnic minority group in our state. The Latino population is growing 12 times faster than the general population. This population shift will have a tremendous impact on everything from education, jobs, housing and health care. Some would say our future literally depends on it.
Jeanette Dejesus knows first hand the challenges facing the fast growing Latino population in Connecticut. As President of the Hispanic Health Council, a Latino research and advocacy organization, she knows families like the Zepeda's who came here from Mexico are a lot more than a statistic. "You have folks within the Latino community who are very hard working, working 2 and 3 different jobs who are not being paid... who are not being paid a livable wage.. at jobs where they're not getting health insurance," Dejesus says.
The struggles of the Zepeda family are a good example of the challenges facing so many Latinos in Connecticut, access to quality education, health care and jobs. The figures are astounding. According to a study conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center in 2008, the number of Latinos living in Connecticut is 419,000. Latinos make up of 12 percent of the state's population. It is growing quickly... The United States Hispanic Leadership Institute estimates the Latino population is growing at a rate 12 times faster than the general population.
This population is growing fast and getting younger. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost half the Latinos living in Connecticut are under 25 years old. Many of those young people are struggling. "We have 30 percent of Latino children, under the age of 18 living in poverty conditions. Their parents are one paycheck away from being in serious problems where they lose their home or where they don't have the food they need. We are going to have a significant amount of our population in need," says Werner Oyanadel, Acting Executive Director of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission. Those needs can be costly. Latinos account for 40 percent of Connecticut residents who don't have health insurance.
Another study reveals the age and ethnicity of the state's workforce is changing dramatically. The 2006 report "New England 2020" commissioned by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation predicted that in the year 2020, minority workers, ages 25 to 29, would account for nearly 50 percent of the state's young workforce. In the public schools, the Connecticut Department of Education reports 16 percent of the student population is Latino. But their drop out rates are among the state's highest.. accounting for 20 percent. Community leaders say keeping Latinos healthy, educated and skilled is critical. Connecticut's economic health depends on it.
"Whenever you have any group that is this big, it needs to be highly skilled, it needs to be well educated.. we need to make investments in these groups so they can contribute to the economy, " says Dejesus. Oyanadel of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission adds, "If you don't create the structures and advocate for the right policies.. we are going to be impacting the whole economy of the state."
Latino leaders agree there is only one way to face the future. "Let's stop looking at folks like they're different, or other, we're in this together, we have we have to address it together, " Dejesus said.
Now, more than ever, these population figures will be critical. Starting in 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau will begin collecting data. The census is an important population counting tool gathered every 10 years. It is used to determine the drawing of Congressional districts as well as the distribution of billions of dollars in federal money. Latino groups believe one million Latinos were not counted in the last census in 2000. If illegal immigrants are not counted this year, 8 million of whom are Latino, the undercount could be much higher.