There's a silver lining in the recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California, in spite of its doom-and-gloom conclusions projecting a major shortage of professionals in California by 2020.
While the PPIC's "California's Future Workforce: Will There Be Enough College Graduates?" study accurately predicts this phenomena, it reaffirms why the future of California's economy depends on Latinos.
According to the study, the number of college-educated workers grew from 28 percent in 1990 to 34 percent in 2006, and due to California's fast-changing demographics, the state will need 4 out of every 10 workers to have earned at least a bachelor's degree by 2025.
At the same time, the bulk of the baby-boom generation will retire and the Latino population in the workforce will grow from 29 percent in 2006 to 40 percent by 2020. Unfortunately, although a fast growing segment of the college enrollment in the state are Latinos, as of 1990 only 7 percent of Latinos had a bachelor's degree and the study predicts that only 12 percent will attain that level of education by 2020.
Thus, California's policymakers and educational leaders need to finally recognize that the state's economy depends on the quality of education we offer K-12 students. It's critical to fully fund the state's universities, with targeted spending focused on the fast-growing Latino student population, which currently represents 48 percent of the state's 6.3 million public school students.
Without a substantial investment in the preparation of Latinos during the next few years — in spite of the projected $28-billion shortfall by 2010 — California will not move from its current 49th place national ranking of high school graduates that go on to college and per capita student spending.
Coincidentally, the same scenario is playing out throughout the U.S. since Latinos already make up 20 percent of all students in the nation's public schools, and today 66 percent of all kindergarten pupils in the Golden State are Latino.
As a result, California needs to lead the way with steps that will reflect how the next generation of students will be prepared in order to retain the state's competitiveness as the 8th largest economy of the world.
Not surprisingly, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell recently stated that getting more minority children through college is the state Department of Education's top priority, and that "It's more critical than ever to have a well-skilled, educated, critical-thinking workforce ... that will come from the subgroups who continue to lag behind their peers."
Undoubtedly, this challenge will test the ability of our political and educational leaders to recognize the changing face of the state's population, and the inevitability of funding the educational infrastructure needs for California's economy to flourish.
While the PPIC study on the future of California's workforce is utterly revealing, the data on Latinos is not new and this is not the first alarm bell that has been rung. Perhaps the message will be heard this time, regardless of the condition of the economy.
For California, Latinos are the silver lining in its economic future.
Originally published in CSULB Daily 49er
Professor Armando Vazquez-Ramos is a lecturer in the CSULB Chicano and Latino Studies department, Coordinator of the California-Mexico Project, and Board President of the Mexican Cultural Institute of Los Angeles. Author's website Email the author