Politicians are wrong about Latinos

Economic uncertainty and our unsettled politics lead the news today, but the most consequential business story is the one not told. It is the good news story of a group of Americans – Latinos – who have been quietly and increasingly powering U.S. economic growth, both as job creators and as consumers. As the U.S. population ages, and as we struggle against the headwinds of an anemic global economy, U.S. Latinos are forming the core of America's New Mainstream Economy. A handful of simple facts tell the story.

First, U.S. Latino buying power is huge, and rising fast. We already enjoy $1.5 trillion in annual purchasing power. That number has been growing much more quickly than the purchasing power of the general U.S. population – 70 percent more quickly over the last 25 years.

I see the effects throughout the economy. According to a National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals report, Latinos accounted for half of the increase in owner households in the United States from 2000-2014. IHS Automotive reports that Latinos drove between 33 percent (Nissan) and 100 percent (Honda) of automakers' retail sales growth in 2014. Colleagues in the C-suites of America's largest retail companies all tell me the same story – Latinos are driving sales growth.

Second, U.S. Latinos are driving net new business formation, and new businesses mean new jobs. According to a Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative study, between 2007 and 2012 Latino-owned new business formation skyrocketed 47 percent while non-Latino net new businesses declined by two percent. Latinos account for one out of every five new entrepreneurs in the United States and Latino-owned businesses have grown at double the growth rate of all firms.

How are Latinos doing it? The answer is not immigration, notwithstanding the nonsense coming out of some presidential candidates' mouths. The Pew Research Center reports that immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border shifted into reverse between 2009 and 2014, with more migrants leaving the United States than arriving.

Instead, we are doing it the old fashioned way. As earlier generations of Latino migrants have integrated into American culture – like generations of migrants before us – our hard work, our youth, our optimism and our commitment to our kids are all paying off today.

Latino kids are better educated than ever before. For the first time in our history, a Latino high school graduate today is just as likely as any other American to go to college. Better educated kids today mean higher-income households tomorrow.

And Latinos are young. According to Pew, the median age of Latinos is 29 years, compared to 43 years for non-Hispanic whites. That means Latinos are driving new household formation. We are also building the tax base that is increasingly supporting America's retirees. By 2050, every 10 U.S. workers will support 3.4 retirees. Without Latinos, that number would rise to 4.8 retirees.

Even new immigrants are doing their part. According to the Wall Street Journal, every million new immigrants pays a net $500 billion over 25 years into the Social Security Trust Fund.

You might not know any of this if you did not look hard for it. The presidential campaign has taken a bizarre turn away from reality, with some candidates talking of Latinos as some kind of foreign threat to the United States to be managed with walls or with schemes to break apart Latino families.

It is time to move past these misunderstandings. It is critical that we open our eyes to real Latinos – optimistic Americans who are driving our New Mainstream Economy, young Americans who are starting our new families and increasingly well-educated Americans who will drive tomorrow's American innovation.

Commentary by Sol Trujillo, the co-chairman of the Latino Donor Collaborative, a non-partisan NGO focused on raising awareness of Latinos' contributions to the current and future success of the nation's economy and society. Mr. Trujillo is the former CEO of Telstra, Orage and U.S. West – telecommunicaitons firms on three continents – and a trade advisor for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

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