Hispanics in the U.S. have a buying power greater than retail giant Walmart’s annual revenue.
And it’s a power that would only grow if Congress and President Barack Obama would work together on comprehensive immigration reform, said Tom Gurr of Partnership for a New American Economy.
Results from a study the group released Thursday highlight how critical American-born and foreign-born Hispanics are to the national, state and local economies, including the Tri-Cities, Gurr said. The partnership represents businesses and leaders and aims for immigration reform.
About $1 in every $10 of U.S. consumer spending is in the pockets of the nation’s 53 million Hispanic residents, according to the study. Last year, their spending power was about $605 billion.
“This is clearly a group of people who want to spend and have the ability to spend and we need to foster that,” Gurr said.
Hispanics were the first ethnic group to show an increase in median income since the 2008 recession, according to the study. Census Bureau data shows the average income of Hispanics grew by 3.5 percent between 2012 and 2013, to an average of nearly $41,000.
The study did not include specific information about Washington state. However, it did put the spending power of Hispanics in the state at $5 billion to $10 billion.
Hispanic labor is critical in the Tri-City area, said Colin Hastings, executive director of the Pasco Chamber of Commerce. They provide an important labor source for agriculture, both in farming and processing.
And both American born and immigrant Hispanics also provide a critical entrepreneurial spirit by starting new, small businesses that provide jobs and generate income for the area, said Martin Valadez, Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce chief operating officer. Most of those businesses employ fewer than 10 employees.
More Hispanics are going to college and starting careers instead of just working a job, Valadez said. That expands the impact they have on the economy because they are able to move up the occupational ladder and earn higher incomes which means spending more and paying more taxes.
Comprehensive immigration reform is especially crucial for Eastern Washington, said Verlynn Best, president and CEO of the Great Yakima Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Hispanics are the largest growing population in the state. Locally, Hispanics are even more influential, making up more than half of Franklin County’s population.
Hispanics are going to become an even more vital part of the regional economy, officials say. That’s why it’s important to make sure immigrants can access education and the tools they need to succeed, Best said.
“I want a totally comprehensive plan that really works,” she said. “I don’t want us to create something that can be destroyed or undermined.”
Obama’s recent executive action does not solve the problems the Columbia Basin and Yakima Valley have because of a lack of immigration reform, Hastings said.
Farmers have a hard time getting enough skilled workers and most say the federal H-2A guest worker program is too unwieldy and costly to be a realistic solution.
Best said people have to be willing to have difficult discussions as part of the process.
The study does break out the impact of American born versus foreign born Hispanics, but doesn’t specifically identify the contribution of undocumented Hispanic workers to the economy.
Regardless of how someone immigrated to the U.S., they end up contributing to the economy, spending money and paying taxes. They pay sales taxes and those who use invalid Social Security numbers end up paying into Social Security and Medicare systems that they do not benefit from, Valadez said.
U.S. Hispanic households contributed about $190 billion in tax revenue, including $67 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the study.
Hispanics paid more than $98 billion to Social Security last year and nearly $23 billion in the Medicare trust fund. They also contribute more than they use. In the next 50 years, immigrants are expected to pay $407 billion more to Social Security than they take out, which will help the system, according to the partnership.
The impact Hispanics have on the economy likely is higher than what the study found, since it used self-reported information gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau. Gurr said the conservative approach still shows how much of an impact Hispanics have on the economy.
The full study is available at http://bit.ly/1BAY3yf.