Latinos make solid and consistent contributions to Illinois’ population and labor force.
Were it not for Latinos, the state’s population and workforce would have contracted. The group contributed more than $97 billion to Chicago’s economy from 2010-2018, according to the recently released 2022 Chicago Metro Latino GDP Report.
The Forum is thrilled with the author’s details in outlining the Latino communities’ wealth-making success, driven by swift gains in human capital and a strong work ethic.
However, missing from the narrative is the Latino wealth paradox. The community continues to not benefit from the prosperity it creates.
To amplify, the data published by California Lutheran University and UCLA Health and funded by Bank of America are consistent with the Forum’s analysis of the U.S. Latino GDP.
The total economic output of Latinos in the United States was $2.6 trillion in 2018. If Latinos living in the U.S. were an independent country, the report finds that their GDP would be the eighth largest in the world. In addition, Illinois’ 2018 Latino GDP is $100.1 billion, larger than the entire economic output of the state of Hawaii.
The importance of population growth for economic strength cannot be overstated. And it is Latinos whose numbers are among the most significant for ensuring that growth. In Illinois, for example, between 2010 and 2018, the Latino population grew annually by about 29,000, while there was an average annual decrease of about 20,000 non-Latinos. Moreover, 2020 census data shows continual Latino population growth nationally and in individual states, including Illinois.
According to the 2022 Chicago Metro Latino GDP report, between 2010 and 2018, the number of Latinos in the Chicagoland area with higher education grew 2.5 times faster than non-Latinos. In addition, the Latino labor force rate averaged 4.6 percentage points higher than non-Latinos.
All of that changed once the pandemic hit. Latinos, the racial/ethnic group most disproportionately impacted, shouldered the most COVID-caused disruptions to their socioeconomic conditions.
According to a July 2021 Pew Research report, almost half of Latinos said they or someone in their household had lost a job or wages since February 2020. The employment situation was complicated for Latinos, who were—and still are—overrepresented in jobs deemed essential (e.g., maintenance, retail, construction, and manufacturing) while simultaneously designated as high risk.
At the same time, pandemic-induced job losses were most significant in labor sectors where Latinos are also disproportionately represented (e.g., personal care, childcare, and leisure and hospitality). As an early analysis by Latino Decisions showed, Latinos were the most likely not to have the required economic cushion to weather job loss. They found the average Latinos household has only about $600 in cash reserves.
When it comes to housing, Latinos are overburdened with costs, and many are just one small emergency away from losing it all, as noted in last year’s Latino Policy Forum publication.
While the Forum joins others in celebrating the outcome of the 2022 Chicago Metro Latino GDP report, validating Latino economic empowerment, we raise concerns about a view that, while accurate, does not highlight the fact that the community is not getting their fair share of earnings from their contributions to the overall economic prosperity of cities, states, and nation. We look forward to updates of the report that include COID-19 years.
The pre-and post-pandemic socioeconomic conditions of Latinos remind us that we must ensure that special attention is given to the devastation that COVID has wreaked.
The Forum will continue to work with elected officials and policymakers to secure that resources directed at fixing what COVID has broken reflect the socioeconomic importance of Latinos and the severity of the damage COVID has done to them.
While the 2022 jobs and economic data look promising – even Latinos, in large numbers, have returned to work – the reality is that Latinos have returned to low-wage jobs. They are working, but their wage does not reflect the ‘economic recovery’ that so many other groups are experiencing. As of the second quarter of 2022, among racial and ethnic groups, it is Latinos who have the lowest earned weekly income.
The Forum will continue to advocate for equity, justice, and economic prosperity for the Latino community by focusing on the pillars of education, housing, and immigration for economic mobility.
After all, as illustrated by the report, imagine how much more economic growth Chicago, Illinois, and the country will enjoy once Latinos get total wealth equity.
Sylvia Puente is the President and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum, a nonprofit that works for equity, justice, and economic prosperity on behalf of Latinos in Chicago and Illinois through public-policy advocacy and analysis on issues including education, housing, and immigration.
Adding to her many accolades, Puente was appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees on August 8, 2022.
Puente is frequently cited as an expert on Latino issues and has published numerous reports and articles that articulate the vital role they play in society. She is a recipient of the Ohtli Award, Mexico’s highest recognition of those serving the Mexican community outside of Mexico, and received an honorary PhD for her social justice work from Roosevelt University in 2021. She has been recognized by Hispanic Business Magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential Hispanics in the U.S.”