BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Washington Post Writers Group
It was another challenging year for Latinos, but one with bright spots, too. Let's flip back through the calendar pages of 2010, then look into the crystal ball to see what's ahead for Hispanics in 2011.
The key challenge in 2010 was the same faced by everyone: the economy. In her December memo, New York Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, chair of the Joint Economic Committee, illuminated the impact of unemployment on Latinos. While the November jobs report showed the national unemployment rate at 9.8 percent, the rate for Hispanics was 13.2 percent -- a rise of 6.9 percentage points since the start of the recession.
More than twice as many Hispanics are unemployed now than at the start of the recession. This has hit teens -- who, in Latino families, often are a major source of family income for a household -- particularly hard. Nearly one in three Hispanic teens is unemployed, compared with one in five for white teens.
These financial issues, of course, aggravate health and education. Healthwise, the most alarming issue continues to be obesity, which especially affects the 33 percent of Hispanic children who live below the poverty line. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008, 18.5 percent of Hispanic children were obese compared to 12.6 percent of white children and 11.8 percent of African-American children, with no abatement in sight.
Coming in at No. 2 is a devastating 39 percent increase in drug use among young Hispanic teen boys between 2008 and 2009, according to recent statistics from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
A silver lining was the CDC's first official compilation of life expectancy for U.S. Latinos, which found that Hispanics outlive whites by 2.5 years and blacks by 7.7 years. That data supported the "Latino health paradox," which is better life expectancy, lower infant mortality and fewer deaths from cardiovascular diseases despite higher rates of poverty, lower education, and more limited access to health care.
In education, Latinos continued to lag. Forty-one percent of Hispanic adults ages 20 and older in the United States do not have at least a high school diploma, compared with 23 percent of black adults and 14 percent of white adults, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. And Hispanic high school dropouts are much less likely than to attain a General Educational Development credential -- just one in 10 Hispanic high school dropouts has a GED, compared with two in 10 black dropouts and three in 10 white dropouts.
On the bright side, the country will one day start realizing the fruits of the thousands of preschool-through-12th-grade education programs put into place over the last decade to boost Latino academic performance and educational attainment. In fact, green shoots are starting to show.
Last February the College Board announced that the number of Hispanic high school students participating in Advanced Placement courses grew by 75 percent since 2004. The statistics showed that Hispanic students were 15.9 percent of the U.S. public school graduating class of 2009, and a representative 15.5 percent of all students who took AP exams. More than half of these students scored a 3 or higher on an AP exam, which is a predictor of college success. In 2008, only 12 percent of associate degrees and 8 percent of bachelor degrees awarded were earned by Latino students, but I'm hoping we'll soon see those numbers rise.
Of course, rising numbers was the biggest Latino story of 2010 -- Census counts found a youthful population that accounted for 51 percent of the U.S. total population growth. Hispanics bolstered their respective states' political power by either helping add Congressional seats, such as in some Western and Southern states, or keeping more seats from being lost, as was the case in Illinois.
But the Census numbers mean more than just potentially expanded political power and consumer buying power -- estimated to be in excess of $1 trillion by 2015 -- for Latinos in this country. They are evidence of the constantly evolving American social and cultural landscape.
The best thing that will happen for Latinos in 2011 will be that they will continue to less and less be seen as problematic, unwieldy or foreign. Much like in recent years, Hispanics will keep on progressing and being seen as another asset woven into the fabric of everyday American life.
Esther J. Cepeda 's e-mail address is estherjcepeda(at)washpost.com.