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Latino growth drives city’s economic future

Latinos are Boston’s fastest-growing sector, Boston Foundation and BPDA report says

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Latino growth drives city’s economic future
Jody Rose, executive director of New England Venture Capital Association, discussed data presented in a report unveiling at the ICA. With her, right to left: Marcela Garcia of The Boston Globe; Carlos Santiago, state commissioner of higher education; and Juan Lopera, Tufts Health Plan vice president of business diversity.

Latinos are Boston’s future, according to a new report released by the Boston Indicators Project of The Boston Foundation and the Boston Planning and Development Agency. They are the city’s fastest-growing group, comprising 20 percent of Boston’s 2015 population and 31 percent of its children.

From 1950 to 1980, Boston’s population was in a slump, as was its economy. Then in 1980, numbers picked up as the Latino population expanded, accounting for 92 percent of the city’s population growth between 1980 and 2015. With Latinos now representing a large portion of Boston’s youth, they’ll be the ones driving the economy as baby boomers retire, and they’ll be the face of Boston in years to come, said speakers at the report’s unveiling at the Institute of Contemporary Art last week.

“You can really make the argument, ‘No Latinos, no Boston renaissance,’” said Paul Grogan, CEO and president of The Boston Foundation. “That growth in population has been absolutely indispensable to the growth and vitality that the city exhibits today.”

Aixia Beauchamp of the Latino Legacy Fund spoke at the event.

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High-level Latino professionals at the event, which was hosted by the Latino Legacy Fund, said that Boston and Massachusetts Latinos represent underutilized talent. Facilitating Latinos’ educational attainment, improving their access to job and career growth opportunities and forming more robust and interconnected Latino-led networks, they said, are key measures to help ensure the vitality and wellbeing of this growing sector and to pave the way for continued city and state economic growth.

Barriers to advancement

In Suffolk County, Latinos comprise 14 percent of the workforce, own 10.4 percent of Boston’s privately-held firms and account for $9 billion in economic output, according to the report. Despite these statistics, Latino-owned businesses on average make less in sales and have fewer (if any) paid employees compared to non-Latino owned businesses. Latinos disproportionately work in lower-paying industries, such as food preparation with median annual salaries of $31,000 for full-time work. They are underrepresented in some higher-wage sectors such as business and finance, which carry $92,000 median annual salaries.

Likely reasons for these disparities, the report says, are language barriers and the fact that Latinos are less likely to have college degrees or high school completion than non-Latinos. Only 19 percent of Latinos have bachelor’s degrees or higher, compared to 50 percent of non-Latinos. Boston jobs increasingly demand higher education, and even in jobs without such requirements, already applicants with higher degrees compete against those without. Additionally, a quarter of Latinos do not speak English well or at all, according to the report. Speakers at the ICA event told anecdotes of medically-trained individuals relegated to cleaning roles at hospitals because they lacked the necessary English capability to use their full skills.

Education and opportunities

Carlos Santiago, state commissioner of Higher Education, said solutions include investing more in funding and strengthening community colleges, given that 70 percent of Latinos attend public higher education institutions, and providing need-based student financial aid. Education approaches also need to shift to acknowledge changing realities such as needs for homelessness services and day care, he said, and educational institutions need to recruit and retain Latino faculty at all staff levels. In addition, greater support needs to be provided to first-generation college attendees to help them navigate where family knowledge falls short, and investments must be made early in the education pipeline to prevent achievement gaps that are often evident among incoming college students.

“We’re going to see nearly 25 percent of our labor force retire within the next 10 years,” Santiago said. “The traditional college-going white population is in decline. Latinos are growing, yet we’re not investing in them to succeed in all levels.”

Reiner Moquete, CEO of Advoqt Technology Group, said another issue is that students too often graduate high school unprepared to apply skills to real-world problems. Small businesses cannot afford to spend time training new hires up to full effectiveness, he said.

“As a small business owner, that’s unsupportable. I can’t wait a year or two for someone to ramp up,” Moquete said.

He recommended educational approaches that focus on hands-on learning, as well as encouragement for students to attain industry certifications after high school.

Other initiatives mentioned include programs targeted to common need areas such as industry-specific English language training and training for immigrants to get their professional licenses recertified in America, said Alejandra St. Guillen, director of the mayor’s Office of Immigrant Advancement. Marybeth Campbell, CEO of SkillWorks, noted from the audience that it can be effective to provide training on the job to assist already-employed individuals in advancing.

Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jim Rooney says his organization seeks to provide financial training to small businesses and to help support and grow diverse small firms by building supplier connections between small businesses and larger ones.

Engaging and keeping Latino talent

Jody Rose, executive director of New England Venture Capital Association, said those companies that report difficulty in finding diverse talent too often are relying only on their traditional search methods. Her organization recruits black and Latino talent out of colleges, two-year programs and coding boot camps for jobs in science and technology. Yvonne Garcia, senior vice president of investment and manager services at State Street Corporation and national president of the Association of Latino Professionals for America, said effective recruitment approaches may include partnering with Latino alumni associations; tailoring outreach efforts to match different sectors’ habits, for instance using social media to reach youth; holding one’s firm to clear goals and metrics; and employing strategies such as refusing to make a hire unless a diverse slate of candidates has been considered.

There also is a difference between recruiting talent and retaining it. The latter requires demonstrating career path opportunities, including offering professional development opportunities and role models in high-level positions.

Bob Rivers, Eastern Bank chair and CEO, noted that having Latinos on the firm’s board provides new perspectives on how to find diverse talent and on services that would best meet needs of potential clients from Latino communities.

Businesses are taking heed of Boston’s changing demographics. Tufts Health Plan’s vice president of business diversity, Juan Lopera, said his company’s vitality requires being able to relate culturally to the city’s fastest growing sector, addressing Latinos’ specific needs and effectively targeting marketing to them.

Some Latino professionals said also that Latinos need to come together more consciously, create networking opportunities with each other where possible and take advantage of chances to act as mentors.