UCI researchers examine political participation and health issues facing Hispanics in coming decades

National team issues comprehensive report on issues facing the growing minority population

Irvine, Calif. -- A sweeping report on the future of Hispanics in America, ranging from education and economics to health care and political influence, will be issued Wednesday in Washington, D.C., by the National Academies' National Research Council.

That report includes a frank analysis and projection of the health status and political influence of Hispanics in America over the next 20 years by UCI researchers Louis DeSipio and Rubén G. Rumbaut. DeSipio and Rumbaut were part of the 11-member panel convened to study the issues facing Hispanics and create the comprehensive report, which is intended to inform future public policy discussions.

In the report, Rumbaut co-authors an analysis of the health status of Hispanics in America. The analysis finds that, although Hispanic immigrants tend to be healthier than the average American, over time and across generations spent in the U.S., rates of obesity, hypertension and diabetes rise among Hispanics. The problem, particularly among young Hispanics, suggests the future could hold increased risks of cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness and other complications. "By the second generation, assimilation leads to a rapid language shift to English and to educational and occupational attainments, but there is another side to the picture: Americanization can be hazardous for your health," said Rumbaut, professor of sociology. "There is an obvious need for society to invest not only in the economic but in the physical well-being of its citizens."

Time also will impact Hispanics' political influence, but perhaps at a slower rate than many hope, according to DeSipio, who authored a chapter of the report on political participation. "Politically, the Hispanic population is not the sleeping giant that many believe," said DeSipio, associate professor of political science and Chicano/Latino studies.

As a group, fewer than half of U.S. citizen Hispanics vote in elections and no more than 10 percent are involved in activities such as lobbying or making political contributions. DeSipio does not anticipate a dramatic or sudden shift in these patterns. Rather, it's likely that political participation among Hispanics will continue to increase incrementally, particularly in the Southwestern states, Florida, New York and Illinois. In evaluating the data, DeSipio argues that Hispanics will continue to align with the Democratic party on issues that are most important to them -- particularly social policies such as public safety, public transportation and reducing discrimination. Hispanics also report willingness to pay additional taxes to support expanded government programs in these areas.

The steady trajectory of increased Hispanic political influence could be altered, however, by the expiration of the Voting Rights Act in 2007, DeSipio notes. The federal act, which protects minority voting rights, has helped encourage the election of minorities to represent minority-majority districts. "If the VRA is not renewed, the nation will see a decline in the number of Latinos in elected office, limiting the group's ability to translate size into political power."

Hispanics are projected to comprise 20 percent of the U.S. population by 2025, and nearly 25 percent by mid-century.

Despite the variety and diversity among the Hispanic population, the report says that education and training are the linchpins that will give the nation's Hispanic workers and their children important tools to better contribute to and share in U.S. prosperity. The children of Spanish-speaking immigrants are among the keys to America's future success. By 2030, they will number about 26 million and most will be in the labor force, the report notes. Underinvesting in their education would compromise the quality of their lives and, in all likelihood, U.S. competitiveness, according to the report.

"Multiple Origins, Uncertain Destinies: Hispanics and the American Future" will be discussed at a public briefing in Washington, D.C., at 11 a.m. Eastern Wednesday, March 1, and will be simultaneously webcast from www.national-academies.org/. A series of local briefings are scheduled in the coming weeks in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City and elsewhere.

Other members of the panel issuing the report include Jorge Durand, University of Guadalajara; José J. Escarce, RAND–California; Nancy S. Landale, Pennsylvania State University; Cordelia W. Reimers, Hunter College, New York; Barbara Schneider, University of Chicago; Edward Telles, UCLA; Steven J. Trejo, University of Texas at Austin; and V. Joseph Hotz, UCLA. The panel chair is Marta Tienda, Princeton University.

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The study was sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Cancer Institute, the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, California HealthCare Foundation, and the California Endowment. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter.

About the University of California, Irvine: The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 24,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,400 faculty members. The second-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3.3 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.

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Contact: Christine Byrd
(949) 824-9055
cbyrd@uci.edu

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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