Hispanic Youth Challenges


Wilma Cartagena


With 38.8 million residents in the United States , the Census Report of 2002 showed that the Hispanic/Latino population is the largest and fastest growing ethnic minority in the nation. We Hispanics are a very diverse population, with people from different parts of Latin America and the Caribbean . As an ethnic group, we share a culture, traditions, and a common language. According to the same census report, the Hispanic population is also younger than the general population: 40 percent Hispanics are under the age of 21 versus 30 percent of the total U.S. population. The Washington State Republican National Hispanic Assembly estimates that in Washington State alone the Hispanic population grew 105 percent. Overall, Hispanics continue making strides as productive members of the community, but challenges remain among our youth; chief among them, low academic achievement and living in poverty.


Low academic achievement among the Hispanic population of the U.S. has been a well-documented issue. According to figures provided in the Office of Superintendents of Public Instruction Graduation and Drop Out Statistics for Washington (2002-2003), the annual overall drop out rate for Hispanic/Latino students is 11.6 percent. The Washington State Commission of Hispanic Affairs reports that the Latino student retention rate is the second lowest in the nation. In their report, "Drop Out Rates in the United States", authors Kauffman, Alt, and Chapman stated that, "Young adults who do not finish high school are more likely to be unemployed, and earn less when they are employed than those who complete high school." The rapid growth of the Hispanic population presents a challenge when 1 out of every 10 students does not complete high school. Still, a bright and encouraging statistic from the National Center for Educational Statistics, and the Pew Hispanic Center - a think-tank dedicated to research on Hispanic trends, reported that more than 80 percent of Hispanic/Latino youth that do finish high school go on to college by age 26. Therefore, efforts must be made to continue encouraging young Hispanic/Latinos to finish high school and college in order to positively alter the other leading challenge faced by our youth: poverty.


There are still a disproportionately large percentage of Hispanic/Latino youth living in poverty. The Pew Hispanic Center reports that, "Although Hispanics/Latinos comprise only 12 percent of the U.S. population, they represent 21 percent of those living in poverty." Poverty poses a serious challenge to children's access to quality learning opportunities and their potential to succeed in school because poverty can also limit access to other resources. According to an article entitled "The State of Latina Adolescent's Health", published by Advocate for, "Living in poverty exacerbates stress, health risks, and unhealthy behaviors." An article written in 2001 on child trends by the Children, Youth, and Families Education and Research Network, hosted by the University of Minnesota , revealed that Hispanic/Latino children are "less likely to have health insurance than either white or black children." Limited access to adequate health care and increased stress, in combination with other poverty-driven malaise, such as crime and violence furthers the challenge of overcoming limited opportunities. The struggle for survival at times becomes a way of life. Once youth become entangled in at-risk lifestyles, the challenge of overcoming poverty can be increasingly difficult.


Booker T. Washington once said, " Success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed." Actively pursuing and focusing resources can greatly improve Hispanic/Latino chances of increasing academic achievement and breaking the cycle of poverty. There are countless stories of young Hispanic men and women who attribute their success to the involvement of people who encouraged and inspired them. Parents, community leaders, and educators who seek awareness of the challenges faced by Hispanic/Latino youth can have a positive impact on a diverse and growing segment of society.