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Analysis

Latino education gap threatens Az's economic future

New data and projections point to a future fiscal and economic crisis for Arizona unless the state's Latino educational attainment gap is addressed in a concerted and sustained manner, according to a report released Friday by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

Dropped? Latino Education and Arizona's Economic Future notes that little or no progress among Latinos has occurred over the last decade – and, in fact, has gotten worse in key measurements – despite the warnings a decade ago and the need for a higher-skilled workforce in today's economy. The 40-page report, funded by Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust and Helios Education Foundation, was released Friday at a forum attended by business leaders, educators, community leaders and policymakers.

Among the presenters and panelists discussing the findings, projections and data was Dr. Steve Murdock, the former director of the U.S. Census Bureau. The Rice University professor noted how similar projections in Texas helped galvanize an understanding and commitment to close the Latino education gap in that state as part of an overall economic strategy.

"This report isn't about ethnicity, but rather about economics, demographics and, in some respects, a failure a decade ago to deal with a critical education issue," said Susan Clark-Johnson, executive director of Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University.

"Latinos eventually will comprise a majority of Arizonans and provide an increasingly larger share of the state's leaders, workers and tax base. If we do not close the educational gap, all of Arizona will suffer the consequences. In truth, education in Arizona needs to be improved for all Arizonans. In an increasingly competitive global environment, our overall education achievement lags far behind that of too many countries," she said.

Some key findings of the report note:

  • In 1980, Latinos made up 16 percent of Arizona's total population. Today, that number is 30 percent, as the state and nation continues to move toward a "majority-minority" populace.
  • Latinos largely are Arizona's work force of the future with the state already home to more Latinos under age 18 than Whites.
  • Nearly 100 percent of Latino children under age 5 years of age in Arizona are U.S. citizens, contrary to political rhetoric related to immigration.
  • With the trend for lower average incomes and fewer jobs for low-skilled labors, Arizona's unemployment and poverty rates can be expected to worsen with a greater demand on state services and less revenue to pay for them.
  • Projections show by 2030 the combined average income for Latinos and whites in Arizona could drop to $32,423 (in 2010 dollars), down from its $39,667 comparable combined average, if income and education trends continue.

'If Arizona does not deal with its educational attainment gap, the state faces a very real possibility of economic decline.'

The report, with Senior Policy Analyst Bill Hart and Senior Policy Analyst C.J. Eisenbarth Hager as its principal authors, emphasizes the point that all of Arizona's education must greatly approve in order for Arizona to compete in the new economy:

"We are not preparing most of our students adequately to handle the competitive challenges of a global economy; and we are particularly failing to tap the enormous potential of Arizona's fastest-growing population group. If Arizona does not deal with its current and increasingly significant educational attainment gap, the state faces a very real possibility of economic decline."

Also included in the report, which was the result of a 1½-year project overseen by Dr. David Daugherty, director of research at Morrison Institute, are root causes of the Latino education gap and strategies to address the statewide problem.

Dropped? Latino Education and Arizona's Economic Future is a follow-up report to Five Shoes Waiting to Drop on Arizona's Future, Morrison Institute's landmark report of 10 years ago. Five Shoes identified five areas – education being one of them – that could lead to economic prosperity or crisis for the state, depending on action.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

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Morrison Institute