THE WIDE INCOME GAP that Latinos face in Massachusetts, and the resulting socioeconomic struggles for families across the Commonwealth, may have come as shocking news to many when a report appeared in the Globe on Friday.
To the local Hispanic community, though, the damning figures just confirm what is already all too real. Now it’s time for state policies — and funding — to catch up.
As the Globe reported, the wealth gap for Latinos in the Bay State is the largest of any state in the country. The median income for Hispanic households here is $39,742 per year, compared to $82,029 for white households. While more than two-thirds of whites are homeowners statewide, only a quarter of Latino heads of households own their homes.
Those disparities hurt everyone in Massachusetts, fostering inequality and holding back economic growth.
One good way to start changing things would be to address the waiting list — now at 16,000 people — for state-sponsored English as a Second Language courses. Language competency leads to economic opportunity, and the shortage of slots suggests a lack of real commitment.
“There are close to half a million individuals who have less than adequate English skills to compete in the Massachusetts job market,” said Claudia Green, executive director of English for New Bostonians, a nonprofit that leads the statewide English Works Campaign, which supports work-based English lessons.
Working to boost Latino college graduation rates at state colleges and universities — following the example of Salem State, a leader on that score — should also be a priority.
It doesn’t take yet another state commission to understand the importance of graduation rates and English classes — one reason some local Latino leaders are skeptical of Governor Charlie Baker’s new Latino Advisory Commission, which conducted listening sessions across the state. The group will issue a set of recommendations later this year. However well intentioned, it creates a sense of déjà vu.
“Every administration, it feels like we’re starting from scratch,” said Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, a prominent Latino leader in Boston and CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción. Former governors Mitt Romney, Deval Patrick, Paul Cellucci, and Michael Dukakis had their own Hispanic councils. Only Dukakis’s left any meaningful mark: It led to the creation of the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at UMass Boston in 1989, which has since informed policy makers with data sets ranging from the diversity and dispersion of Latinos in the state to studies showing how Hispanic students are served by charter schools.
The rest faded quickly from memory, while problems like the waiting list have endured.
The waitlist of 16,000 immigrants is just for state-funded programs, but there are many others run by nonprofits like Green’s that are trying to fill in the gaps. The state funding for adult basic education programs not only hasn’t kept up but has declined 30 percent since 2001.
It’s great that the Baker administration wants to listen. But Latinos in Massachusetts have been down this path before, and want to see results.