Power Shift

The Rapidly Diversifying Workforce
by Gabrielle Balzell

An increasing number of minorities, most notably Latinos, is altering the disposition of the national and local workforce.

A nation in the midst of great change, the United States is seeing the early stages of a power shift among its melting pot of citizenry. Not only are there record numbers of female policy makers in Congress providing a woman’s perspective on critical issues, but the youngest of the millennials are reaching adulthood, while the eldest of their generation are entering the prime of their careers. Compounding this demographic shift, today’s minority groups will together comprise the majority of the U.S. population before 2050, putting an end to white male dominance in the workplace, and significantly altering every aspect of the American workforce, as well as its current—and future—needs.

Political Prowess
Offering a glimpse of the clout possessed by these emerging demographics, the 2012 presidential election saw record numbers of young and minority voters—a major factor in President Obama’s reelection. According to the Pew Research Center, 19 percent of the electorate was made up of those under the age of 30, by far the most racially and ethnically diverse group of voters. Just 58 percent of these voters identified themselves as white and non-Hispanic, compared to 76 percent of voters older than 30, while 18 percent identified themselves as Hispanic, 17 percent as African American, and seven percent as “mixed-race/other.” A continuing trend, the racial and ethnic composition of young voters has progressively grown more and more diverse over time.

Likewise, the electorate as a whole has grown more diverse with each election. In 2012, minorities cast an unprecedented 28 percent of votes in the November election. Latinos, in particular, have consistently shown up to the polls in record numbers, and their voting bloc is anticipated to double within a generation, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. As reported by the Capitol Fax, not only did Latinos make up 10 percent of the American electorate last year, they accounted for 12 percent of Illinois voters—a significant increase from two decades ago, when they composed just one percent of the state’s voters. During that time, Illinois saw its Hispanic population double in size—from eight to 16 percent of its total population. The numbers are telling of the ongoing demographic shift and represent an inflection point in political power and economic influence.

Bracing for the Boom
Over the past four decades, the U.S. has seen a significant influx in minority immigrants, especially Latinos, which has added more than 40 million people to the country’s total population, according to the Pew Research Center. In addition, high birth rates among minority immigrants, coupled with a rapidly aging white population with declining birth rates, has led the U.S. Census Bureau to project America to become a “majority-minority” nation by 2043. While non-Hispanic whites will remain the single largest racial group, no one group will compose more than half of the overall population.

Currently comprising 37 percent of the U.S. populace, minorities are together expected to comprise 57 percent of the population by 2060. Between now and then, it’s estimated that the black population will increase from 13.1 to 14.7 percent, while the Asian population will jump from 5.1 to 8.2 percent. Most dramatically, the Hispanic population is predicted to nearly double in size, from about 17 to 30 percent of the total U.S. population over the next half-century, in a boom that will have a sweeping impact, both across the nation and here locally.

Uniting As One
Central Illinois has already seen the beginnings of this transformation. According to the latest census results, the number of Hispanic families in the Peoria Metropolitan Statistical Area (defined as Marshall, Peoria, Stark, Tazewell and Woodford counties) nearly doubled over the first decade of the 21st century, bringing the total Hispanic population to about 10,500—just under three percent of the Peoria MSA. As a result, a rising number of local agencies are reaching out to the growing Latino population. Besides an increase of facilities with bilingual signage, Spanish-speaking staff or translation services, organizations like the Peoria Friendship House and Peoria Hispanics are helping to connect local Latino residents with community resources.

Last year, nearly 1,000 local residents received services through the Latino Outreach Program at Peoria Friendship House. In addition to offering ESL (English as a second language), GED and citizenship preparation classes, the program is committed to cultural enhancement through its Por Amor knitting group—which hand-makes blankets to donate to area hospitals and sick children and seniors—Latino Cub and Boy Scouts troops, Latino Health Fair and other programs centered around Hispanic culture. Friendship House also works closely with Peoria Hispanics, as both organizations are dedicated to advocating for and uniting members of the local Hispanic community.

“It’s always been our mission to promote, to collaborate and to connect with the community and the resources the community has available,” says Jacques Ceballos, vice president of Peoria Hispanics. With members hailing from more than 20 Spanish-speaking countries, Ceballos believes that in order for the local Hispanic community to truly prosper in central Illinois, it needs to form a collective voice to express its wants and needs. “I think we are better off when we all come together. And I say together as all Latinos—not together as different areas within Latinos. That, I think, will be the key factor.”

Cross-Cultural Collaboration
The rise of Latinos in central Illinois has not gone unnoticed by the community at large, including the regional economic development effort, Focus Forward CI (FFCI). With the assistance of Peoria Friendship House and Peoria Hispanics, FFCI held one of its forums last fall entirely in Spanish, the first in what’s to be a continuing series of conversations to discover what this rapidly-growing population needs to thrive. “We recognize the importance of involving the entire community in regional planning, in particular this economic planning initiative,” says Melissa Eaton, senior planner at the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, which has given leadership to the effort. “We wanted to make sure [Latinos] had a voice in the process.”

Among the issues cited at the initial meeting were the need for better customer service, more bilingual personnel at community agencies, improved housing regulations, more frequent transportation service, assistance in marketing local small businesses, and improved safety in area schools and parks. In addition, several attendees expressed concern about discrimination from some local agencies, as well as a sense of not feeling welcomed in the community.

With the first session offering valuable insights, future Spanish-language forums will be vital in helping FFCI achieve many of its goals, including those to increase both the overall regional population and the 25-to-44-year-old age bracket by 2017. “We’re looking to grow our population in the workforce age, and here we have a significant percentage of the Hispanic community that is of workforce age or going to become of workforce age in the near-future,” Eaton explains. “The fact that the population is growing, that’s a big thing for our region—a big, positive thing.”

» Local Latino Outreach
 In addition to Peoria Friendship House (peoriafriendshiphouse.org) and Peoria Hispanics (peoriahispanics.org), other local agencies provide services targeted to Hispanic residents, including:

  • Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria. Not only does Catholic Charities offer translation services, citizenship tutoring and ESL classes, its Immigration Clinics program offers free information and legal counseling to individuals with questions regarding their immigration status. ccdop.org/hispanic.html.
  • First United Methodist Church. Pastor Adrian Garcia offers services in Spanish as part of the church’s Latino Ministry. fumcpeoria.org
  • Illinois Department of Human Services. DHS’ Division of Rehabilitation Services offers vocational rehabilitation, leadership development training, and referrals to other community resources for Latinos with disabilities. www.dhs.state.il.us
  • Illinois Migrant Council. IMC assists migrant and seasonal farm workers with everything from employment and education services to healthcare and housing. illinoismigrant.org.

Facilitating the Dream
Besides increasing the regional populace, FFCI also established the objectives of creating more than 13,000 jobs locally and improving the pay rate of 19,000 jobs by an additional $5,000 per year. But given the sluggish pace of the economic recovery and continued high unemployment rates—especially among Latinos and youth—the task ahead appears to be daunting. But there are jobs to be found, says Sally Hanley, director of business development at the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois. “I’m an optimist with regard to opportunities,” she says, “and there are jobs—if you have the skills.”

Helping to ensure that Latinos, youth and all citizens of the region can find those opportunities, FFCI has been working with hiring companies and educational institutions to match qualified candidates to appropriate job openings. Dennis Kief, regional development coordinator for the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, points to Excel Foundry & Machine in Pekin as a prime example of a company that wants to hire regionally, but needs a skilled workforce.

“They’re undergoing a major expansion and they want to add jobs, but they’re having trouble getting qualified workers. And when we say qualified workers, these aren’t people with master’s degrees or even bachelor’s degrees—these are people with just some good technical training,” Kief explains. “Just getting everybody on the same page and talking to each other, we’re seeing tremendous positives already.”

As FFCI continues to explore the region’s assets with regard to quality of place, several initiatives geared to attract both the workforce age group and the Hispanic community have already emerged. Recently, the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, City of Peoria, ArtsPartners of Central Illinois and Peoria Park District secured funding from the National Endowment for the Arts to perform neighborhood-based arts and culture planning. One neighborhood that will draw special focus is Peoria’s East Bluff, which has a high density of Hispanic residents. Though still in the planning stages, ideas that have been bounced around include bilingual street signage and public artwork representative of the Latino community.

Helping One to Help All
Though the seeds have been planted, it will take time for the long-term impact of an increasingly diverse workforce to be fully understood. While the results of local economic efforts won’t be known for years, Eaton, Hanley and Kief all agree that the continued involvement of the Hispanic community is essential to attaining economic prosperity for the region as a whole.

Not only will engaging minority groups help to develop a more skilled labor force, it has the potential to bring on a surge of regional entrepreneurship. “Workforce development with the Latinos here will definitely have a great impact on the local economy,” Ceballos asserts. And that impact is already being felt, as central Illinois has seen a rise in the number of Hispanic-owned businesses, including a new bakery and grocery store that recently opened in Peoria. Not only does the increase in minority entrepreneurs provide additional employment opportunities and encourage families to put down roots, it helps to power the local economy. “If you have good quality of place, you’ve got good jobs around the area and… a variety of activities,” Ceballos continues, “more than likely, Latinos—whatever dollars they earn locally—they’re going to spend it in the local region.”

“The increase in population of Hispanics will be a very positive thing for our region,” Eaton adds. “That’s an important message that we need to send out to the Hispanic community, and all those involved in economic development, as we move forward… What’s going to help Hispanics prosper is what’s going to help all of us prosper—and that’s collaboration.” iBi

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