America’s Latino future

America’s Latino future
By John J. DiIulio Jr.

Demography is political destiny in a representative democracy. As the U.S. Census Bureau forecasts, by mid-century, the nation’s Latino population will surpass the 100 million mark, and nearly 1 in 3 U.S. residents will be Latino (up from about 1 in 6 today). Most Latinos now live in just three states (California, Florida, and Texas), but before mid-century there will be sizable Latino subpopulations in many cities from coast to coast. And, as the native-born Latino population increases, the rate at which Latinos graduate from college and vote will increase.

Today, about 70 percent of Latinos self-identify as “Democratic/lean Democratic.” But the GOP is out to narrow that edge. Then: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney blamed his loss in part on the Democrats’ “big gifts” to “Hispanic voters” like “amnesty for children of illegals” and “free health care.” Now: Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida rebutted the State of the Union Address in English and in Spanish.

Surveys by the Pew Hispanic Research Center show that while most Latinos care lots about health care and immigration policies, they also care lots about what government does on education, jobs, the economy, budget deficits, and taxes. Over the next few years, leaders in each party can be expected to address these issues in ways that take Latinos’ policy preferences ever more fully into account.

But there is one politically salient issue concerning the nation’s large and growing Latino population that neither party’s leadership has fully acknowledged: Latino grassroots groups, neighborhood associations, and faith-based networks do remarkable and remarkably well-documented work, but these organizations may still be getting short shrift when it comes to federal funding and other support.

Consider, for example, recent reports by the National Alliance for Hispanic Families (NAHF), a coalition of more than 2,000 leaders and more than 300 organizations. Start with NAHF’s October 2012 report,La Diferencia: Grassroots Organizations Uniquely Serving Hispanic Communities through Culturally Relevant, Family Focused Programs.The report heralds how Latino civic organizations are typically led by individuals who live in the communities they serve; engage entire families rather than lone program beneficiaries; seek out traditionally underserved people; and partner with others in and out of the community that help them to benefit Latino families.

Next, peruse the December 2012 NAHF report, Beyond the Rhetoric: Improving Service to the Hispanic Community. The report suggests that the federal funding gap, like “the abysmal representation of Hispanics in the federal workforce,” reflects “decades of neglect of the Hispanic community.” Zeroing in on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF), an agency with a $50 billion annual budget, NAHF recommends targeting federal discretionary funds to address “unmet needs within the Hispanic community,” support “culturally relevant, linguistically appropriate” and “effective practices with Latino populations,” and ensure that federal grants that run through state government agencies respect “the eligibility of community and faith-based organizations serving Hispanic populations to compete for those funds.”

The civic case for supporting community-serving groups that preach and practice la diferencia is compelling, not least with respect to faith-based programs. For instance, many empirical studies conducted over the last two decades show that Latino congregations supply their own needy neighbors with a wide range of vital social services. And while, as the saying goes, the plural of anecdote is not data, organizations like Esperanza, a national network of more than 13,000 Latino clergy and congregations, have countless success stories to tell.

For instance, in Philadelphia, the local Esperanza network of neighborhood groups, businesses, and churches has expanded affordable housing (including for senior citizens); sponsored job training programs (it was once the only state-contracted such program in a Latino agency); launched a high school, a college, and other educational institutions and programs; and much more.

Esperanza’s president, Reverend Luis Cortes, offered the opening prayer at the 2013 presidential inaugural luncheon, and the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast this June will feature President Obama and leaders from both parties as guest speakers.

Of course, just because something is good for civic life, good policy, and good politics does not mean that it will happen. By or before Election Day 2016, will policymakers in both parties finally answer decades-old prayers for federal support that is commensurate with Latino grassroots groups’ proven capacities?

Espero que si. (I hope so.)


John J. DiIulio, Jr. served as the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and is the author of “Godly Republic: A Centrist Blueprint for America’s Faith-Based Future” (University of California, 2007).