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Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

Minorities can make Minnesota a better place

  • Article by: HECTOR GARCIA
  • July 30, 2012 - 10:31 AM

Disparities between the majority and minority communities in Minnesota are among the worst in the United States -- in education, employment, business creation, health, housing and incarceration. In addition to the damage these disparities inflict on the members of minority communities, they also detract from Minnesota's overall image for socioeconomic excellence. They obstruct efforts such as Greater MSP (see www.greatermsp.org) to promote the metro area among investors, businesses, talent, and tourists from other states and nations.

The disparities create a drag on the state's economy, and they will become increasingly burdensome, since minorities have a higher rate of demographic growth than the majority population. Minnesota's Latino population grew by 74.5 percent between 2000 and 2010.

The disparities have remained intractable over decades, despite public, private and philanthropic efforts. One of the main reasons for the failure is the absence of a partnership spirit between the leadership of the majority and minority communities. This situation is reminiscent, in a smaller scale, of the multibillion-dollar campaigns to reduce global poverty. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, wrote that those efforts were failing because teams of experts who were sent to address poverty throughout the world did not take into account that much of the solution lay with those who were the victims of poverty; thus, they did not engage them but tried to fix them.

The world has been changing dramatically over recent years, revealing a new scenario with new potential. This new reality -- or "New Normal," as presentations by the state's economist Tom Stinson and former demographer Tom Gillaspy were entitled -- has made visible the great potential resource available in minority communities. For instance, the median age of the growing minority populations, much lower than that of the quickly aging majority, can help address the challenges of funding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the increasing costs of education, and other responsibilities that seemed unmanageable under the old scenario.

This potential, though, will not be realized if the minorities continue to be disempowered by disparities. According to a Georgetown University study, Minnesota, by 2018, will be the No. 2 state in terms of demand for workers with postsecondary education -- and No. 48 in jobs for high school dropouts. The high school graduation rate of Latinos in 2010 was 49.2 percent; that of "whites" was 82.8 percent. The dropout rate of Latinos was three times that of whites, and the number of Latinos age 25 or older with associate or bachelor's degrees was about half that of whites in 2008.

None of this is for lack of ambition. In 2010, Latinos had the highest rate of work participation in Minnesota -- 80.5 percent, compared with 71.7 percent for whites.

The new reality is one of global interdependence, which confers high added value to diversity in language and culture. Minnesota stands to gain in these areas from its minority populations. Return on investment is highest when untapped resources are leveraged to produce tangible results. Suddenly, what was perceived as troublesome in a monocultural state paradigm -- foreign languages and divergent cultures -- becomes, in a global paradigm, a resource for improved competitiveness in the world economy.

These and other untapped minority resources could help bring about the missing spirit of partnership. We partner with those who have something to contribute to the achievement of our goals. Since minority communities can make Minnesota more competitive, they can be seen as valuable economic partners.

In this context, the Chicano Latino Affairs Council and the other minority state councils also can contribute to Minnesota. The state councils are bridges of communication and cooperation between state government and minority communities. The councils are trusted in those communities and are competent in their cultures and languages; they have the capacity to convene and counsel. The councils also have ties with local and federal government, and with private and nonprofit organizations. These strengths allow the councils to facilitate the creation of a spirit of partnership, which will address the disparities while enhancing Minnesota's economy and the future of all Minnesotans.

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Hector Garcia is executive director of the Minnesota Chicano Latino Affairs Council and is former vice president for emerging markets for Wells Fargo Bank.

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