La Vida Buena
Raising the Bar | From the Executive Director | June 2018
By: Jeff Kutash, Executive Director
El éxito de la población hispana es muy importante para el futuro de nuestro estado. If you don’t speak Spanish; or if your Spanish is a little rusty like mine, that means “The success of the Hispanic population is very important to the future of our state”. Hispanics/Latinos are a large and fast-growing segment of Nebraska’s population. They contribute significantly to the economy. They bring a rich culture and heritage to our communities. But they are not succeeding at the same rate as other Nebraskans, and that has to change.
Hispanics are driving the growth of Nebraska’s population.
From 2000 to 2016, Nebraska’s Hispanic population more than doubled from about 94,000 to almost 192,000, or 10% of the state’s population. That’s a 4.5% annual growth rate, compared to an overall growth rate for the state of 0.7% per year. Overall from 2000 to 2010, 85 of Nebraska’s 93 counties saw an increase in their Hispanic population, while only 13 counties saw an increase in their white population. And that trend is going to continue. According to US Census and UNO estimates, by 2050, Hispanics are projected to represent nearly 25% of our state’s population. By 2014, Hispanics had already surpassed the 20% mark in six Nebraska counties: Colfax (43%), Dakota (37%), Dawson (33%), Hall (25%), Saline (23%) and Scotts Bluff (23%).
The Hispanic/Latino population contributes significantly to our state’s economy.
According to a report by New American Economy, in 2014 Hispanic households in Nebraska earned $1.2B, paid over $265M in taxes, and held $1.2B in spending power. The report also notes that immigrants (the majority of whom are Hispanic) make up a large proportion of the workforce in agriculture, manufacturing, processing and packaging, business support services, and construction. At the same time, almost 5,000 immigrants were self-employed in Nebraska and immigrant-owned businesses employed nearly 17,000 people. According to the 2012 Latino Businesses in Nebraska report, Latino owned businesses doubled from 3 to 6 thousand between 2007 and 2012 with annual sales reaching over a billion dollars.
Hispanics face highly disparate outcomes in a number of critical areas.
Nebraska’s high school graduation rate in 2015 was 93% for non-Hispanic white students, but 82% for Hispanic/Latino students. In Nebraska, we are proud to have an unemployment rate that has hovered between 2.9 and 3.4% since 2014. That’s among the lowest in the nation. However, that rate is 10% if you are Hispanic/Latino. This disparity is just as stark when you look at key indicators of education success compiled by the Nebraska Coordinating Commission of Postsecondary Education for 2015 and economic success compiled by the Pew Research Center for 2014 (depicted below).
Average ACT Composite Score
College Continuation (Going) Rate
College Completion Rate
Annual Personal Earnings
% Living in Poverty
% Who Own Homes
% With No Health Insurance
Non-Hispanic White Nebraskans
Non-Hispanic White Nebraskans
Average ACT Composite Score – 22.4
College Continuation (Going) Rate – 70.3%
College Completion Rate – 53.4%
Annual Personal Earnings – $31,300
% Living in Poverty – 10%
% Who Own Homes – 70%
% With No Health Insurance – 7%
Average ACT Composite Score – 18.4
College Continuation (Going) Rate – 54.4%
College Completion Rate – 38.9%
Annual Personal Earnings – $23,500
% Living in Poverty – 22%
% Who Own Homes – 47%
% With No Health Insurance – 25%
Looking at these trends together, it becomes clear why it is so important to Nebraska that Hispanics/Latinos succeed. Looking forward, I see two paths we can take. One, we do nothing. Disparate educational and economic outcomes continue and the state bears increasing costs to assist a growing population that is struggling with poverty. Or two, we focus strongly on improving educational and economic outcomes for Hispanic/Latino Nebraskans. By doing so, the state benefits from a growing population of people ready to enter the work-force in high-skill high-wage jobs, launch entrepreneurial ventures, contribute more significantly to our tax base and economic growth, and flourish in and enrich our communities.
That’s why we all need to support efforts to ensure that Hispanics/Latinos in Nebraska are welcomed, civically engaged, and successful. If you are a nonprofit or a community working on this issue, please contact us. And please find below a few efforts we are supporting to ensure that Hispanics/Latinos thrive in Nebraska.
- Education: We partner with organizations like College Possible, Avenue Scholars, Boys & Girls Club and Completely Kids that help young people, many of whom are Hispanic/Latino, succeed in school, get to and through college, and move successfully into the workforce.
- Economic Opportunity: We support efforts that help Hispanics/Latinos start and grow businesses like the Center for Rural Affairs’ REAP program, Midlands Latino CDC, and Nebraska Enterprise Fund. We also support workforce development and financial literacy programs like Heartland Workforce Solutions and the Financial Hope Collaborative at Creighton University.
- Civic Engagement: We support the Heartland Workers Center and Latino Center of the Midlands in Omaha, Multicultural Coalition in Grand Island, Centro Hispano in Columbus, el Centro De Las Américas in Lincoln, and Centro Latino in Council Bluffs, all of whom work to empower Hispanics/Latinos around issues of housing, education, employment, and civic engagement, among other services.
- Welcoming Work: We support Nebraska Appleseed’s “Welcoming Communities” program that works across the state to help communities welcome and celebrate immigrants and the many contributions they make to build Nebraska’s future.
We cherish the diversity and differences that enrich our state. At the same time, we are all Nebraskans, and we share similar dreams, goals, and values.
Years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Julieta Garcia, the former president of University of Texas in Brownsville speak about the growth of the Hispanic/Latino population in Texas. She told the audience that Hispanics/Latinos are family-oriented, rooted in faith, and work incredibly hard – and who wouldn’t want that in their employees, their neighbors, and their friends? As I reflect on her words today, I am struck by another thought. Strong family values? Deep faith? Tremendous work ethic? Yep, sounds like Nebraskans to me.