Let’s Give Our Children a More Certain Future This Holiday Season

By Janet Murguía, President and CEO of NCLR, and Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus

The New Year usually symbolizes an opportunity for new beginnings and growth, but American households face a very different reality in 2013. On January 2, the fiscal cliff will leave many families with $2,000 less to put food on the table, or even a roof over their children’s heads, unless Congress comes to a budget agreement this month.

The fiscal cliff’s automatic, across-the-board budget cuts come at a time when children and their families are already struggling. Kids are facing the highest levels of poverty since the Great Depression, and Latino children are faring the worst: about 1-in-3 Hispanic kids live in poverty today. If sequestration goes into effect, federal funding for kids will be cut by an additional $6.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2013.

Children represent the largest constituency of Americans who would be impacted by the fiscal cliff at 30 percent of the U.S. population. And Latino children now make up nearly 1-in-4 children under the age of 18, and are critically important to our nation’s future. An analysis from NCLR (National Council of La Raza) highlights what sequestration means for our kids:

  • 96,000 children will not be served by Head Start, including 34,000 Latino kids
  • 80,000 children will not receive the Child Care Development Block Grant, including 16,000 Hispanic children
  • 1.8 million low-income public school students will not receive extra reading and math help because of cuts to Title I. The 37 percent of Latino kids who attend high-poverty schools could be affected by these cuts.

We saw from the recent presidential election that Latinos, as a voting bloc, highly favor greater investment in all our children. At 10 percent of the electorate and over 12 million voters, the historic turnout of Hispanic voters is a critical factor in urging politicians to take action for kids. A nationwide election eve poll released by Lake Research Partners on behalf of First Focus Campaign for Children (FFCC) shows overwhelming support from Latino voters for a wide range of federal investments in America’s children at levels higher than voters of all demographics and political affiliations.

The damage sequestration would mean to kids is simply unacceptable to Hispanic voters and the public at-large that broadly supports raising revenue and oppose budget cuts that impact kids. Latino children are one of the fastest growing segments of kids in school. Cutting programs that contribute to their development and ensure they are prepared to meet the requisites of a future labor market would not only hurt their personal future success but undercut the strength and competitiveness of the nation’s economy. This is not lost on Hispanic voters who consistently list education and children’s issues at the top of their priority list.

In another poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of FFCC, the majority of American voters disapprove of Congress making budget cuts to an array of children’s programs, including: education (75-24%), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (74-17%), Medicaid (73-27%), child abuse and neglect (66-33%), the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit (63-34%), student loans and financial aid for college students (59-40%), Head Start (59-40%), and child care (54-44%).

Despite the popularity of investing in America’s next generation, discretionary spending on children has declined by about $2 billion since 2010. Children have borne a disproportionate share of the spending reduction to combat the federal deficit. In fact, the share of federal spending going to kids fell six percent in the past year.

The budget and impending sequestration clearly do not align with our children’s needs, and what voters want. Kids and their families deserve better. Let’s hold our lawmakers accountable. Contact your representative and tell them to keep kids off the table.

As Fiscal Cliff Draws Nearer, There Is No Time For a Plan B

By Janis Bowdler, Director, Wealth-Building Policy Project

This New Year’s, many Americans across the country will have quite a bit weighing on their minds at a time when they are supposed to be clinking champagne glasses and making their resolutions for 2013.  In less than two weeks, our country will go over the fiscal cliff, resulting in a tax hike for millions of Americans and severe funding cuts to education, health care, and housing programs, to name a few.  That is unless Congress and the Obama administration can reach a deal on the federal budget.

For a brief moment earlier this week, it appeared that both sides were willing to compromise.

But that glimmer of hope was fleeting, and it seems negotiations are at a standstill.  Republican leadership is now pushing “Plan B,” which the House will vote on tonight at 6:00 p.m.

Simply put, “Plan B” is bad for Hispanic families.  It fails to meet NCLR’s principles for a fairer federal budget.  The plan further reduces tax liability for those at the top while pushing working families toward poverty.

The wealthiest would be the big winners should this plan pass.  Under “Plan B,” millionaires would get an estimated $50,000 tax cut, while 25 million middle class families making less than $250,000 a year would see their income taxes increase by an average of $1,000 apiece.  And,millions would lose access to the Child Tax Credit, as well as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which are valuable tools that help prevent many Latinos from falling below the poverty line.

All of this while also allowing the sequester to move forward, gutting critical investments in education, jobs, and housing.  For example, in many poor districts, where federal funding covers a substantial portion of their budgets, for every $1 million that a school district receives in federal funding, sequestration will take away $82,000.  For districts with disproportionately large Hispanic and Black populations, that loss could have devastating effects.

“Plan B” is not a viable option for Latinos or this country.  Thankfully, President Obama has already issued a veto threat.  However, that does not mean both sides should stop trying to reach an agreement.  We strongly urge House Speaker Boehner and President Obama to put America’s working and middle-class families ahead of politics.  We need a fair approach to deficit reduction where everyone pays their share.

We must end this stalemate.  Far too much is at stake for the American people.  Nobody wins if we go over the fiscal cliff, and the clock is almost up.

State job creation policies matter for Latinos

By Alicia Criado, Policy Associate, Economic and Employment Policy Project, NCLR

I recently received an email from Vicky, an NCLR supporter, who thanked me for reporting each month on how Latinos are doing in today’s economy.  She also shared that she is unemployed and has come to realize that being bilingual is not enough to help her land a job.  Vicky does not have postsecondary education has found that employers want the whole package in a worker:  adequate training, in-demand skills, and education beyond high school.

Many jobseekers like Vicky are keenly aware of what it takes to stand out in today’s job market, where the ratio of unemployed workers to job openings is more than three to one.  Just over five years from now, in 2018, only 10% of jobs in the U.S. economy will be open to workers with less than a high school degree.  Yet today nearly two out of five (38.4%) Latino adults—and almost half of foreign-born Latino adults (47.5%)—do not have a high school diploma.  These facts are alarming given that by 2050 one in three American workers will be Latino.

It is not clear that the legislators who Vicky and approximately 12 million Latinos helped elect in 2012 understand the needs of the Latino workforce.  According to our latest report, Now Hiring?  Latinos and the Job Creation Policies in the South Atlantic, legislators in South Atlantic states have made plans to create jobs without taking stock of the barriers that the burgeoning Hispanic labor force faces.  State policymakers are paying little to no attention to the intersections of local job creation policies and current state workforce development, immigration, and transportation systems.  Necessary investments in programs like basic skills training, which help Latinos successfully compete for jobs, are often overlooked.  Priority is placed on developing and expanding tax incentives to encourage companies to create jobs and endorsing actions like anti-immigrant legislation that hinder Hispanic workers’ access to employment.  These choices are to the detriment of workers and businesses alike, thus undermining job growth initiatives.

There is a need for significant policy adjustments at the state level to ensure that jobs in the fastest-growing industries are available to Latinos, the fastest-growing segment of workers.  Given the diversity of Latino workers, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work when developing strategies to meet their unique needs.  This is especially true for Latinos in the South Atlantic.  Disproportionate numbers of Hispanics in the region possess limited formal education or English proficiency and largely have inadequate access to language training.  For example, among Latinos over the age of 25 in Georgia, 44.2% have not completed high school and 70.5% have limited English proficiency.  If we look at this same population next door in Florida, we find that just 26.3% do not have a high school diploma and 57.4% speak English less than very well.  Solutions and approaches must be tailored to local needs.

Now more than ever there is a need for policymakers to ensure that Latinos have a seat at the table to inform the job creation agenda at the state level.  The needs and concerns of the Hispanic community should no longer be an afterthought.  The early warning signs uncovered in Now Hiring?  Latinos and the Job Creation Policies in the South Atlantic call for serious policy discussions on how to ensure that jobs are within reach for a broader share of workers and their families.  It is paramount that in this time of limited resources legislators endorse customized policy solutions that benefit employers and cultivate the workforce for years to come.  These discussions can’t wait because our economy won’t work without Latinos.

Read NCLR’s latest study, Now Hiring?  Latinos and the Job Creation Policies in the South Atlantic, to learn more about the barriers that Latinos face in the labor market and why job creation policies are failing to maximize the employment potential of America’s rapidly growing workforce.  For more information, please contact Alicia Criado, Policy Associate at NCLR, at acriado@nclr.org.

Now It’s Personal: Viewing the Fiscal Cliff from the Perspective of Youth

By Mario Enríquez, Líderes Associate, NCLR

The fiscal cliff has been a hot topic in recent weeks.  From the TV screen to endless posts on our newsfeeds, we can see that the fiscal cliff will not be good for anyone, especially youth.  As a young person you may ask yourself, “What is the fiscal cliff and how exactly does it affect me?”  Some might say, “Why should I care about this?”  The reason is simple:  Out of all the demographic groups in this country, young people will feel the impact of the fiscal cliff the longest, not only now but for decades to come.  Yes, many of us may not earn enough right now to potentially lose $2,000 in taxes, but we should consider how this will affect us down the road.

Failing to avert the fiscal cliff will only exacerbate the already deep hole we are digging for ourselves with our national student debt and our unemployment rate.  As a member of the Millennial Generation, I have seen my friends struggle to find a job that fits their career goals. Black and Latino youth, who are the fast-growing segments of our young people, are suffering unemployment rates of 23% and 18% respectively.”  These rates are much too high, and we cannot bear the burden of inaction from Congress.

We grew up believing in the notion of the American Dream, that if we work hard we can succeed and prosper in America.  We have aimed to achieve this dream for ourselves, for our families, and for our communities.  We know the value of hard work and are ready to join the workforce in our respective fields.  Young people across this country should not have to worry about massive student debt.  We need to start holding the Obama administration and Congress accountable to ensure that we, too, have a fair shot at pursuing the American Dream.

I ask you to think about your personal situation and what life would be like if you didn’t have opportunities to succeed.  What would that mean for you?  We are the leaders of today and tomorrow, and I know that if we stand our ground and make our voices heard, Congress will listen.  We need to start taking action not just for ourselves but also for our families who we fight for every single day.  Let’s get out there and show the power we have as rising leaders in this country!

Fiscal Cliff Will Add to Texas Education Budget Woes

By José Ibarra,Texas Field Organizer and Capacity-Building Strategist, NCLR

For Texas, a state that experienced a $27 billion shortfall during the last legislative session and cut $5.4 billion from the state education budget, going over the fiscal cliff will add yet another problem to an already contentious issue.  Of the education funds slashed in 2011, $1.4 billion was cut from grants and discretionary spending that largely impacted full-day pre-k, parent engagement, bilingual, after-school, credit recovery, and dropout prevention programs—all of which are largely attended by students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including many Latinos.

Should lawmakers in Washington, DC fail to resolve the fiscal cliff, the Texas budget will fall short by more than $1 billion.  Over half that amount will come out of an already taxed education budget in a state where 62% of the student population is composed of racial or ethnic minorities.

A further cut of slightly more than $1 billion could translate into further job and program losses, including the firing of 1,400 teaching and educational support jobs.  This would come on top of 25,000 layoffs for teachers and support staff in 2011 and 2012, despite an increase of approximately 332,000 students in the last four years.  Most of the service cuts will come from Title I grants and special needs programs, which already operate on limited funds and affect underprivileged students.

The bottom line is that Texas cannot afford additional financial strains, especially with regard to the education budget that already saw drastic cuts in 2011 and prompted six lawsuits in state courts surrounding school finance.  It is our obligation to urge federal lawmakers to resolve the fiscal cliff and prevent further cuts to the programs and services that affect the well-being of our children, our state, our economy, and our country.

Why All Mamis Should Make Their Voices Heard on the Fiscal Cliff

By Liany Elba Arroyo, Associate Director, Education and Children’s Policy Project, NCLR

Mamis, think the fiscal cliff isn’t a big deal?  Think again!

The fiscal cliff is approaching rapidly and negotiations between Congress and the White House appear to be going nowhere.  It seems like falling off the cliff is inevitable.  What isn’t inevitable, however, is the damage that this will cause to the economy, our communities, and our schools.

The fiscal cliff refers to the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and the start of new budget cuts required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 through a process known as sequestration.  How this will affect the economy has been front-page news, but what is talked about less is what happens to our education system on January 2, when the budget cuts go into effect.  For our most vulnerable children, particularly the more than 17 million Latino children in this country, the stakes are high.

While our education system is funded primarily by local property taxes, federal funds account for 8% of all education spending.  However, poor districts receive additional funding from the federal government that they count on to keep schools open, teachers in the classroom, and assistance available to the neediest students.  For some districts, federal funding covers a substantial portion of their budgets.  For example, a recent analysis found that federal funds make up more than 15% of the school budgets in Los Angeles, Miami, and Philadelphia and more than 20% of the budgets in Chicago and Milwaukee.

What does this all mean?  After the fiscal cliff, for every $1 million that a school district receives in federal funding, sequestration will take away $82,000.  For districts with disproportionately large Latino and Black populations, that loss could have devastating effects.  The programs that stand to lose most are those created to help these children compete.  For example:

  • 1.8 million fewer children will be served by Title I, which helps the poorest students.
  • 145,180 children will lose access to before- or after-school programs.
  • 10,899 fewer educators will be available to support special needs students.
  • 26,949 fewer infants and toddlers will receive early intervention services.

Latino children have so much at stake during this debate.  They are 23% of all public school students.  Thirty-seven percent of all Latino children attend the nation’s poorest schools.  Over one-third of all students served by Title I are Latino.  If we fall off the fiscal cliff, our children will suffer the consequences of our inaction.  As the mamis of our future leaders, we must inform ourselves and act to ensure that Congress and the Obama administration make the right decisions.  Our children are depending on us.

Don’t Let Congress Push Our Future Off the (Fiscal) Cliff

By Liany Elba Arroyo, Associate Director, Education and Children’s Policy Project Yesterday, NCLR released the Latino Kids Data Explorer, a unique resource that combines information from several sources into one easy-to-use tool. Advocates, policymakers, and even parents can use this database to see how Latino and other children in their state are faring according to 27 different measures of well-being. The data make one thing clear: we have to pursue stronger policies that create opportunities for children and their families. While Latino children have made gains in several areas such as health insurance coverage and preschool attendance, the reality is that Latino children, as well as Black children, lag far behind their White counterparts in almost all measures of child well-being. This should be of great concern to us all given that Latino children, as one of the fastest-growing child populations in the country, will not only make up our future workforce but also pay the taxes that sustain our nation. If our political leaders shortchange this crucial population during the upcoming conversations on the national debt, they will end up pushing our children off a “fiscal cliff” from which they may never recover. Last year, policymakers in Washington agreed on a deal to extend tax cuts until December 31, 2012. They also scheduled massive budget cuts to take place concurrently. On January 1, 2013, Americans will be hit with cuts to vital programs in education, health, housing, and job training, as well as a tax hike, unless Congress takes action. This “fiscal cliff” would cause serious harm to families and could slow down or even reverse economic growth, potentially increasing unemployment while simultaneously gutting programs intended to help struggling families. Hispanics must pay close attention to how Congress addresses this issue because the wrong approach can cause long-term damage to our community.

Latino children, and all poor children, will face a double hit if Congress makes draconian cuts to the programs that so many of them depend on to survive. The first hit comes in the form of decreased access to our nation’s safety net and the education they need to become productive members of society. Our nation runs the risk of backtracking on the progress that Latinos have made over the last decade in graduating from high school, obtaining health insurance, and attending preschool. The number of Latino children living with mothers who have less than a high school education or live in poverty will likely rise.

The second hit—cuts to entitlements—will not affect the current generation, but it will have an unquestionably disproportionate effect on these same children down the road. Hispanic children will enter adulthood to find our safety net in tatters. Cuts to Social Security and Medicare will be acutely felt by a poorer and potentially less healthy generation.

As a Latina, voter, and mother, I ask myself how that is fair. How can our leaders pass the burden on to today’s children? Why would our nation’s leaders condemn young Latinos to a childhood of neglect and an adulthood of suffering? Why would they kill the American Dream for nearly one-quarter of our nation’s children? These are questions that all Latinos, and all Americans, must ask themselves. Then we must resolve to make a difference. Our community must inform itself and act to ensure that our nation’s leaders get the message: our community will not let them damn our children to a lifetime of poverty.