SID SALTER: Growth of Hispanic population an economic reality

By Sid Salter

STARKVILLE – A new National Conference of State Legislatures report outlines the clear and undeniable reality of Hispanic population growth both in the U.S. and in Mississippi – a reality that has economic and educational consequences for Mississippi taxpayers.
The inevitable public policy collision comes over jobs. While the primary political debate remains one mired in questions of the proper role of both the federal and state government in dealing with illegal immigration, the long term policy debate will be one of the impacts of Hispanic population growth on public education and the competition for jobs.
The NCSL report documents that Hispanics/Latinos are the “largest and fastest growing minority group in the nation” and also “have the lowest educational attainment level of any group.” The report additionally documents the rapid rate of Hispanic population growth in the U.S. over the last decade.
At present, the nation’s 50.5 million Hispanics comprise 16 percent of the U.S. population. But in 2050, that percentage is projected to expand to 30 percent.
Nine states, including Mississippi, saw their Hispanic population double over the last decade. Mississippi’s Hispanic population grew 105.9 percent between 2000 and 2010 with Hispanics now comprising 2.7 percent of the state’s total population. Those numbers also translate into Hispanic children comprising 2.2 percent of the state’s public K-12 student population as well, but only 1.1 percent of public college and university students.
Nationally, the NCSL report identifies that Hispanics “have the lowest educational attainment rate – only 19 percent of Latino adults have a college degree, compared to 42 percent of whites and 26 percent of African-American adults.”
In a state where there is an unacceptably high dropout rate that impacts K-12 educational attainment for the whole of Mississippi’s population and higher education attainment trails the national average by more than 8 percent, low educational attainment by the state’s rapidly growing Hispanic population has one inevitable outcome: a steady increase in competition for low-skill, low-wage jobs.
Growing Mississippi demand for Hispanic labor in the construction and agricultural sectors is undeniable. From the poultry and timber industries to row crop production like sweet potatoes to the service and hospitality industry, the influx of Hispanic labor over the last decade has for many Mississippi counties been transformational. Consider Scott County. The Hispanic population has increased there over the last decade from 5.8 percent in 2000 to 10.7 percent in 2010. In Forest, the county seat, the Hispanic population has grown from 12.7 percent in 2000 to 23.7 percent in 2010. In Morton, the percentage over the decade jumped from 13 percent to 25.7 percent.
The impact on K-12 education has been demonstrated over the last decade. Depending on federal policies – or the lack of them – those impacts could be felt in higher education as well. Birthright citizenship virtually guarantees that outcome. Educational attainment – regardless of race or ethnicity – has a direct bearing on the state’s future economic attainment.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 662-325-2506 or ssalter@library.msstate.edu.