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HARTFORD COURANT: Opinion: Harnessing Latino HARTFORD COURANT: Opinion: Harnessing Latino
03 July 2024

HARTFORD COURANT: Opinion: Harnessing Latino talent for tomorrow’s CT STEM workforce demands

Category: News Coverage

As the Latino population is soaring, now constituting a significant portion of the U.S. populace and fueling unprecedented growth in various sectors, particularly the labor force, the cultivation of a diverse and skilled workforce capable of meeting the demands of an increasingly complex global economy is becoming a critical challenge due to the social, cultural, and systemic barriers that hinder Latinos from workforce skill development.

At 63.6 million, Latinos now represent 19% of the total U.S. population. They are the second-largest and fastest-growing demographic, accounting for 54% of the U.S. population growth. Latinos are now the main drivers of the U.S. labor force growth rate, which has slowed down over the past decades. Latinos are projected to account for 78% of net new workers between 2020 and 2030. And by 2030, 1 out of 5 workers will be Latino. As more young Latinos come of age, this group is poised to enter the workforce–in front-line jobs needed for the changing environmental needs. Latinos already represent 47.2% of agricultural field workers in the U.S. In California, the state with the most Latinos, 92% of them are farmworkers. Latinos also represent 30% of construction laborers across the country.

By 2050, Latino children are expected to represent a similar percentage as white children. Yet they disproportionately lag behind their white peers on a range of well-being and education indicators. It is not surprising, then, that adult Latinos are also underrepresented in the STEM professions. A recent study by the Pew Research Center finds that Latino adults are less likely to earn degrees in STEM than in other degree fields, and they continue to make up a lower share of STEM graduates relative to their share of the adult population. While Latino workers fill 17% of all jobs in the country, they only make up 8% of the STEM workforce. Only 5.8% of active physicians in the medical profession identify as Latino. This demonstrates the reproving need of Latino professionals in the medical field to better serve the well-being of the growing Latino children population, stressing the importance of the additional “M” after STEMM

A myriad of barriers contribute to the lack of Latinos in STEM majors and careers. Latinos often face challenges in accessing quality education due to factors such as language barriers, underfunded schools in their communities, and limited access to resources like advanced placement courses or STEM-related extracurricular activities. Many Latino families experience economic hardships, which can hinder access to opportunities like fee-based tutoring, test preparation, and college application support. Financial constraints may also compel students to prioritize immediate employment over pursuing higher education in STEM fields, often requiring additional years of schooling. 

A scarcity of Latino representation in STEM professions means that aspiring Latino students may have fewer role models to look up to and fewer mentors to guide them through their educational and career pathways. Additionally, stereotypes about the perceived difficulty, the idea that STEM careers are not for them, or the lack of relevance in STEM subjects may discourage Latino students from pursuing these areas of study.

Addressing these systemic barriers requires comprehensive efforts from educational institutions, policymakers, communities, and industry stakeholders to provide equitable access to resources, support systems, mentorship opportunities, and inclusive environments that empower Latinos to pursue and thrive in STEM careers.

Programs like the STEM education and mentoring program, “Senderos a la Ciencia” (Pathways to Science) in New London, Connecticut, run by Hispanic Access Foundation in partnership with the National Institutes of Health through the Science Education Partnership Award, is an example of how we can look to educate the Latino community about STEM careers. In addition, advocating for more STEM educational resources and supporting initiatives like the annual Latino Advocacy Week, where various Latino groups, organizations, and elected officials champion legislation and advocacy efforts that uplift and support Latino communities.

The underrepresentation of Latinos in STEM fields underscores the urgent need for concerted efforts to dismantle systemic barriers and foster inclusive pathways to success. As demographic shifts continue to redefine the U.S. population and labor force, it is imperative to harness the full potential of Latino talent in driving innovation, economic growth, and societal progress.

Written by Amaris Alanis Ribeiro, Hispanic Access Foundation STEM Director, for the Hartford Courant.

Note: Research reported here was supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R25GM150175. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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is an initiative of Hispanic 
Access Foundation.

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