Editorial: Keeping up with state’s Hispanic, Latino growth

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

Susan Walsh / TNS

The changing faces across any decade should be impossible to miss, yet too often become invisible.

Hard data in the latest U.S. Census figures makes it clear that the Hispanic and Latino population in Connecticut is growing faster than any other group, a trend that seems likely to continue. As Oct. 15 marks the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, Connecticut needs to consider how it serves these residents in the future.

Such data continues to be shadowed by misconceptions about documentation. Immigration with this group actually declined during the past decade. The rise is largely due to a baby boom. From 2000-2010, some 32,000 Hispanic or Latino children were born in or moved to the state, more than any other group.

These shifts aren’t unique to Connecticut. The other 49 states, as well as Washington, D.C., saw increases as well.

Connecticut, though, continues to host the highest percentage of the population with Puerto Rico roots. That percentage rose from 7.1 percent in 2010 to 8.2 percent. On the scorecard of states, that’s considerably higher than second-place New York, at 5.7 percent.

“Hispanic and Latino” represents a broad umbrella, including Mexicans, Dominicans, Colombians, Guatemalans and many others. But with that growth has come a perilous widening of the wealth gap for this population.

Not only does the Hispanic and Latino population earn, on average, about $27,000 less per year in Connecticut that their white counterparts, but that figure represents an increase of about 26 percent from the 2010 Census.

COVID-19 underscored the fragility of the day-to-day economy for neighbors at the low end of the pay scale. Many are the essential workers who earned attention and applause during the darkest days of the pandemic. But while the Census helps us identify areas of need, it does not remedy such problems.

It’s also discouraging to see that this population is underrepresented in Hartford, which happens to boast the state’s largest Hispanic population in Connecticut (44 percent). Only one of the 36 state senators is of Hispanic or Latino origin. The numbers are slightly better on the House of Representatives side (12 of 151 lawmakers).

That should change, but it will likely be a slow process. The population skews young, where candidates often struggle to find voters.

But one X factor could accelerate progress for the Hispanic and Latino population in Connecticut.

Connecticut’s Miguel Cardona is still in his first year serving as U.S. Education Secretary. He travels the nation promoting education policy as students and educators collectively carve an exit from the pandemic. Meanwhile, his teenage son and daughter are navigating their own path through Connecticut public high school in Meriden.

As the first Latino in the position, Cardona not only helps steer the discourse about inclusion to our most important U.S. citizens, but serves as a role model back home. In addition to inspiring students, he could attract more members of Connecticut’s fast-growing population to seek office.

He’s not invisible. He’s the face of the future.