President Obama has entered office and confirmed that the nation faces its greatest economic challenge since the 1930’s Great Depression. The menacing economic syndrome of deflation is rearing its ugly head. Prices are collapsing in many markets not just in housing. The current crisis is increasingly characterized as becoming a wide-spread debacle: the consumer confidence is shattered, the financial system is plainly unraveling, and now international trade is going south in a significant way.
One of the most troubling indicators is the rapid rise in the unemployment rates. In some states, like Michigan, Rhode Island, and California, it is already over 10% unemployment. Many of the country’s top economic analysts predict that the worst is yet to come. President Obama is using a lot of political capital in the so-called ‘stimulus bills’. Yet many economic pundits are noting that the new Administration must try every means to stem the increasing economic threats. Hence, stimulus bills may be a shot in the dark, but most reasonable people submit that it is better than doing nothing.
When one begins to consider the Latino plight in this dire economic situation, it becomes clear that both US Latino citizens and immigrant Latinos are feeling the pangs of this crisis like all other groups. But the real challenge is that even when the times were good, our socio-economic indicators demonstrated that we were fast becoming the underclass in many categories. These indicators included: highest school drop-out rates, higher than average unemployment rates and suggestions of a definite high under-employment rate (informal economy), poverty levels, increasing teenage pregnancies, other health concerns have become alarming with growing obesity and diabetes rates. Yet it can be easily demonstrated that the Latino community has progressed notably in the last two generations: home-ownership increased, two family incomes are increasingly common, vastly increased numbers of college and university graduates, many more small Latino businesses have flourished, infinitely more Latino elected officials at every level and infant mortality figures have dropped. Now this current economic crisis will be equally devastating to both poor and more affluent Latinos. The challenge is how to get our Latino community engaged in the serious discussion of actionable proposals that affect directly the livelihood of the Hispanic population.
The fact that three trillion dollars may be spent on rescuing our economic well-being is almost unfathomable; yet the Latino community needs its Washington leadership in Congress and the Administration to engage full force to make certain that these gargantuan spending bills provide some cover to the Latino community. This must become the primordial concern on the national Latino agenda.
Hispanic Congress-persons on the Appropriations Committee like Jose Serrano, Ed Pastor, Lucille Roybal-Allard and Ciro Rodriguez are in strategic positions to lead the dialogue within the community. Senators like Bob Menendez and Mel Martinez, who are both on the Banking and the Energy Committees, are also key to any effort for Latinos. Senator Menendez is also on Budget Committee. Nydia Velazquez is well-positioned as Chair of the Small Business Committee; and like Luis Gutierrez, Joe Baca, Ruben Hinojosa and Albio Sires, Velazquez is also a member of the Financial Services Committee. Loretta Sanchez has notably served in the powerful Joint Economic Committee of Congress as the only Hispanic and hopefully continues to be an active member. Mario Diaz-Balart even though a minority member serves on three powerful committees: Budget, Science and Technology and Transportation and Infrastructure. Xavier Becerra’s membership on the Budget Committee and the powerful Ways and Means Committee suggest perhaps that he is the lead on this urgent economic discussion affecting the Latino community. Taking up Hispanic educational challenges on Committee on Education and Labor would include Hinojosa, Raul Grijalva and Linda Sanchez. Charlie Gonzalez remains on the influential Committee on Energy and Commerce which oversees the Health care coverage, telecommunications and trade issues. Lastly, the Hispanic members of the important Agriculture Committee taking up the national nutrition issues in the country include Joe Baca (chair of Sub-Committee on Nutrition,) John Salazar and Henry Cuellar. These Congress people mentioned are key in this massive stimulus spending process.
Moreover, Hilda Solis, as Labor Secretary, should take up the mantle as the lead Hispanic in the Administration to ensure that our community gets a fair shake in the recovery efforts being put forth. Solis along with Cecilia Munoz, the Assistant to President Obama for Inter-Governmental Affairs must quickly master the intricacies of the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) process in the White House. OMB is the spending or allocating traffic cop in any administration and has powerful authorities to determine the amounts and who gets the monies and how they should be spent within the legislative language provided.
The Hispanic advocacy groups like National Council of La Raza, LULAC, the Cuban National Council, the National Puerto Rican Foundation and other Latino national and regional or local advocacy organizations must insist on action. The Hispanic Caucus should immediately form if it has not yet a structured working group within its organization to identify the Latino community needs in this economic crisis, the monies available, the mechanisms involved, and communicating the intricacies of the processes to the local governmental level. Nydia Velazquez the new Caucus Chair should move swiftly to ensure that the Latino representation is effectively felt and that the constituencies’ needs be addressed. A multi-trillion dollar spending program must include the basic and necessary resources for the Latino community to alleviate the impending hardships. A national discussion and consultation process among the Latino community is imperative to provide a better understanding of the deepening recession (for some) and depression (for others). These are extraordinary times, and the Latino leadership must step up to the challenge in an organized and effective manner.