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Making A Difference Through Public Service

Speech

Making A Difference Through Public Service

 
 

Commissioner Luis A. Aguilar

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

Latinos on Fast Track (LOFT) Symposium Hispanic Heritage Foundation Washington, DC

Jan. 15, 2014

Thank you for that kind introduction.  I am honored to be here today.  I have had the privilege of speaking at prior Latinos on Fast Track events and I’m always impressed by the quality of the participants.  Today is no exception.  Before I begin my remarks, let me issue the standard disclaimer that the views I express today are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), my fellow Commissioners, or members of the staff.

I understand that many of you are currently working in a government position, and I want to commend you for having chosen to serve the American public.  There is no nobler cause, and I know that you are already making a positive difference in other people’s lives.  I am truly inspired to see so many bright and dedicated young professionals who are committed to making a difference.  As I look around, I see the future of our country, and it is a bright one.

Today, I would like to spend my time with you discussing:

  • The important roles that Hispanics and Latinos play in our country’s prosperity; and

  • The importance of giving back to our communities and country through government service.

The Contributions of Hispanics and Latinos to U.S. Prosperity

Latinos are a heterogeneous and growing group originating from many different parts of the world.  Some of us may be recent immigrants, while others may have had ancestors who lived on American soil even before the founding of the United States.  But all of us share the same strong belief in the “American Dream” and its promise of a better life.

Latinos have a deep appreciation for the freedom, values, and opportunities offered by this great country.  These opportunities are available and they are underscored by data showing that Hispanics have made significant contributions to our economy, among other things, by starting new businesses, creating jobs, and utilizing their purchasing power as consumers.  For example: ­

  • Nationally, there are over three million Hispanic-owned companies with over $500 billion in revenue;[1]

  • New Latino entrepreneurs nearly doubled, from 10.5% to 19.5%, between 1996 and 2012;[2]

  • The numbers of Hispanic firms are growing more than four times faster than the overall number of U.S. firms;[3] and

  • If it were a nation in itself, the U.S. Hispanic market would be one of the top ten economies in the world.[4]

Clearly, Hispanic and Latino Americans have made significant progress in our country; nonetheless, there are still challenges.  I would like to highlight just a few of these challenges, as well as the progress that has been made.

Challenges Facing Hispanics and Latinos

Hispanics and Latinos continue to bear a disproportionate share of the economic hardships that sometimes destroy the fabric of our daily lives.  While I continue to be optimistic, I remain concerned that more needs to be done to address these challenges.

For example, the recent poverty data released by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the largest group of poor children in this country are Hispanic, almost six million children in total.[5]  Similarly, last year, the Urban Institute released a report entitled, “Less than Equal: Racial Disparities in Wealth Accumulation”[6] that focused on the wide racial wealth gap between Whites and communities of color—a gap made wider by the impact of the Great Recession.

First, we need to examine the growing racial wealth gap and fully understand why it matters.  The authors of the report described wealth this way:  “Wealth isn’t just money in the bank, it’s insurance against tough times, tuition to get a better education and a better job, savings to retire on, and a springboard into the middle class.  In short, wealth translates into opportunity.”[7]

Regrettably, there is a significant wealth gap between the races.  By 2010, the average wealth of White families was roughly over a half-million dollars higher than the average wealth of Black and Hispanic families.[8]  It is particularly important to note that Blacks and Hispanics are less likely to own homes and have retirement accounts than Whites, so they miss out on these traditionally powerful wealth-building vehicles.

While the recent Great Recession had a devastating impact on all communities, the impacts were much more devastating on communities of color.  Between 2007 and 2010, Hispanic families lost 44% of their average wealth, while African-American families lost 31%, and White families lost 11% of their average wealth.[9]

Lower home values contributed considerably to significant wealth loss among Hispanics.[10]  As described by the Urban Institute:

“[M]any Hispanic families bought homes just before the recession.  Because they started with higher debt-to-asset values, the sharp decline in housing prices meant an even sharper cut in Hispanics’ wealth.  As a result, they were also more likely to end up underwater or with negative home equity.  Between 2007 and 2010, Hispanics saw their home equity cut in half…”[11]

While the Great Recession did not cause the wealth disparities between Whites and minorities, it did exacerbate them.[12]  It is clear that more needs to be done to facilitate basic wealth accumulation in communities of color, especially within the Hispanic community.  This is important because more wealth translates into greater opportunities.

Progress Made by Hispanics

Despite these challenges, however, Hispanics and Latinos have made tremendous progress in this country.  As a group, we may be a minority in this country, but we have made major contributions.  Hispanic and Latino Americans have been leaders of our nation for a very long time.  We take pride in Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice; Nobel Prize winner Luis Alvarez; and civil rights activist César Chávez;  just to name a few.[13]  During the National Hispanic Heritage Month in 2012, President Barack Obama had this to say about the progress made by Hispanics:

“Hispanics have helped shape our communities and expand our country, from laboratories and industry to board rooms and classrooms.  They have led movements that pushed our country closer to realizing the democratic ideals of America’s founding documents, and they have served courageously as members of our Armed Forces to defend those ideals at home and abroad.  Hispanics also serve as leaders throughout the public sector, working at the highest levels of our government and serving on our highest courts.”[14]

We have indeed served our Nation well.  We must continue this good work and prepare the next generation to do the same.

There is some great news on this front.  The recent data on college enrollment and unemployment rates of Hispanics looks promising.  For example, in 2012, and for the first time, the number of 18- to 24-year-old Hispanics enrolled in college exceeded two million, reaching a record 16.5% share of all college enrollments.[15]  This milestone represents not just population growth, but also increasing high school graduation rates, which this year hit a record 76.3%.[16]  Moreover, a report by the Pew Research Center found that a record 69% of all Hispanic-American high school graduates in the class of 2012 enrolled in a two-year or four-year college that fall.[17]  That is a college enrollment rate higher than that of White high school graduates.[18]  A recent report from the Department of Labor added more good news: the unemployment rate for Hispanics and Latino men and women age 20 years and older has improved since 2012, from 8.1% to 7.9% for men in 2013, and from 10.3% to 8.7% for women.[19]

These achievements represent individual talent, hard work, and determination.  But I also know that, for every young person who worked hard and achieved success, there are many proud parents, brothers and sisters, teachers, and community mentors who offered support, encouragement, and served as positive role models.  Because of this, it is important for all us to give back to our families, communities, and country.  As our country’s next generation of Americans, our Nation’s future is in your hands.  I urge you to continue to contribute to the success of our Nation, as it forges ahead into the future to face the challenges and demands of the 21st Century.[20]

Government Service

Obviously, one way to give back to our country is through government service, and it is encouraging to see so many of you here today who have made that choice.  Indeed, I have made that choice three times—once right after law school, once when President George W. Bush asked me to serve as an SEC Commissioner, and again when President Barack Obama asked me to serve another term as an SEC Commissioner.

My desire to enter public service started a long time ago with my arrival to the United States.  As some of you may know, I was born in Cuba.  I came to this country with my nine-year-old brother when I was only six years old.  Our parents sent us here because they feared for our safety when Fidel Castro seized control of the Cuban government.  Like thousands of Cuban children who arrived in the United States as refugees, we did not have any means of financial support.  I arrived in America with little more than the clothes I was wearing and did not speak a word of English.  But through the generosity that is one of the hallmarks of the American public, and our own determination to meet our challenges, my brother and I not only survived—we thrived.

In my case, I was able to pay my way through college and law school by taking on jobs ranging from being a stock boy in a yarn store to loading baggage and cargo into airplanes at the Miami International Airport.  It is a long way from the hot tarmac of the airport in Miami to the halls of our Nation’s capital, but I carry those experiences with me.  I know how hard Americans work just to survive in this country.

I have now been a lawyer for over 30 years, starting out as a staff attorney at the SEC, later working as a law firm partner in various international law firms, and then as general counsel and executive of one of the world’s largest global asset managers.

However, it’s not just about having a career and making money.  Even when I was focused on building my professional career, I also found it important to give back to my community by becoming involved in many community organizations.  I have found it particularly rewarding to become active with organizations that worked to improve the lives of minorities and the underserved.[21]  I encourage you do to the same.  Giving time and effort to your communities can bring a great deal of personal satisfaction.

It was my need to give back that led me to say “yes” to serving as a Commissioner at the SEC.  Moreover, my professional career had given me a deep respect and admiration for the importance of the SEC.  As many of you know, the SEC is an independent federal agency that oversees our Nation’s capital markets—the world’s largest and most complex market for stocks, bonds, and other types of investment securities.  I expect that most of you, and many people you know, in one way or another, benefit from the work of the SEC.  The SEC’s work is vital because many Americans invest directly in publicly traded companies or put their hard-earned money into pension funds, mutual funds, college savings plans, and 401(k)s.  They do this to support their families, pay for their children’s education, and plan for their retirement.  Because of the importance of the capital markets to the prosperity and security of American families, the SEC’s role as the markets’ “watchdog” is vital to our country’s future.  I have found my work at the SEC to be both rewarding and meaningful.

I expect that many of you feel the same way about your jobs.  No matter what you do in government, I hope that you have a long, proud, and rewarding career.  Let me read you a quote from our late President John F. Kennedy about government service:

“Let every public servant know, whether his post is high or low, that a man’s rank and reputation … will be determined by the size of the job he does, and not by the size of his staff, his office or his budget.  Let it be clear that [we] recognize[] the value of dissent and daring -- that we greet healthy controversy as the hallmark of healthy change.  Let the public service be a proud and lively career.  And let every man and woman who works in any area of our national government, in any branch, at any level, be able to say with pride and with honor in future years: ‘I served the United States Government in that hour of our nation’s need.’”[22]

Conclusion

There’s very little that I can say to top that—so I will end my remarks where I began.  I am delighted to be here.  Organizations like the Hispanic Heritage Foundation—and the LOFT programs—help support and produce the next generation of Hispanic and Latino leaders, and this, in turn, strengthens our families, our communities, and our country. 

Hispanic and Latino Americans have faced great challenges living in this great country, but the progress made shows that we have the resolve to achieve the American Dream.  Although I know that it will take a lot of hard work and perseverance, my faith in the American Dream and the boundless opportunities offered by this country make me optimistic that your future—and our future—is bright.

Thank you for everything that you do, and thank you for having me here today.



[1] “The Latino Coalition 2013 Small Business Summit Reaches New Heights and Showcases the Impact of Small Business to the U.S. Economy,” The Wall Street Journal (May 6, 2013), available at http://online.wsj.com/article/PR-CO-20130506-902461.html?mod=googlenews_wsj.

[2] Robert W. Fairlie, “Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity 1996-2012,” Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (April 2013), p. 9, available at hhttp://www.kauffman.org/~/media/kauffman_org/research%20reports%20and%20covers/2013/04/kiea_2013_report.pdf.

[3] Id.

[4] The Nielsen Company, “State of the Hispanic Consumer:  The Hispanic Market Imperative” (Quarter 2, 2012), http://es.nielsen.com/site/documents/State_of_Hispanic_Consumer_Report_4-16-FINAL.pdf.

[5] Children’s Defense Fund, Child Poverty in America 2012:  National Analysis (Sept. 17, 2013), available at http://www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/child-poverty-in-america-2012.pdf.

[6] “Less than Equal: Racial Disparities in Wealth Accumulation,” by Signe-Mary Mckernan, Caroline Ratcliffe. Eugene Steuerle, and Sisi Zhang, Urban Institute (April 2013), available at http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/412802-Less-Than-Equal-Racial-Disparities-in-Wealth-Accumulation.pdf. (hereinafter, “Racial Disparities in Wealth Accumulation”).

[7] Id at 1.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Hispanic Household Wealth Fell by 66% from 2005 to 2009, The Toll of the Great Recession. Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project (July 26, 2011).

[11] Supra note 6 at 2-3.

[12] Id. at 2.

[13] Hispanic Heritage month, available at http://hispanicheritagemonth.gov/index.html (last visited Nov. 20, 2013); The Official Web Site of the Nobel Prize, The Nobel Prize in Physics 1968: Luis Alvarez, available at http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1968/alvarez-bio.html (last visited Nov. 20, 2013); Cesar Chavez Foundation. About Cesar, available at http://www.chavezfoundation.org/_page.php?code=001001000000000&page_ttl=About+Cesar&kind=1 (last visited Nov. 20, 2013).

[14] The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Presidential Proclamation – National Hispanic Heritage Month, 2012 (Sept. 14, 2012), available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/09/14/presidential-proclamation-national-hispanic-heritage-month-2012.

[15] Richard Fry and Mark Hugo Lopez, Hispanic Student Enrollments Reach New Highs in 2011, Pew Hispanic Center (Aug. 20, 2012), p.4, available at http://www.pewhispanic.org/files/2012/08/Hispanic-Student-Enrollments-Reach-New-Highs-in-2011_FINAL.pdf.

[16] Id., p.5 (represents percentage of Hispanic youths, ages 18-24, with a high school diploma or GED).  From 1970 to 2010, high school graduation rates for Hispanic Americans almost doubled (from 32.1% to 62.9%), and four-year college graduation rates more than tripled (from 4.5% to 13.9%). U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012, Table 229 Educational Attainment by Race and Hispanic Origin: 1970 to 2010, available at http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0229.pdf.

[17] Richard Fry and Paul Taylor, “High School Drop-out Rate at Record Low, Hispanic High School Graduates Pass Whites in Rate of College Enrollment,” PewResearch Hispanic Center (May 9, 2013), http://www.pewhispanic.org/2013/05/09/hispanic-high-school-graduates-pass-whites-in-rate-of-college-enrollment/.

[18] Id.

[19] U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, Economic News Release:  Table A-3. Employment status of the Hispanic or Latino population by sex and age (Sept. 6, 2013) (last visited Nov. 20, 2013), available at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t03.htm.

[20] National Public Radio program broadcast, “College-Bound Latino Students at New High” (Aug. 22, 2012), transcript available at http://www.npr.org/2012/08/22/159777934/college-bound-latino-students-at-new-high.  (James Montoya, College Board:  “… we cannot underestimate the essential role that Latinos in the U.S. will play in reaching our national goal of 55 to 60 percent of young Americans 25 to 34 having a college degree. … to keep the U.S. as a leader in an increasingly global economy …”

[21] I am also concerned about the overall lack of diversity in federal civilian employment.  As of September 2012, the total number of employees in executive branch agencies was about 2.1 million.  However, minorities represented only 34.1% of the employees, with Hispanics representing only 5.8%.  See Office of Personnel Management, Data, Analysis & Documentation, Federal Employment Reports: Executive Branch Employment by Gender and Race/National Origin (Sept. 2002-Sept. 2012), available at http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/data-analysis-documentation/federal-employment-reports/reports-publications/executive-branch-employment-by-gender-and-racenational-origin/.  The lack of diversity in the federal workforce is resulting in the exclusion of many qualified Hispanics and Latinos.

[22] Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union (11), Public Papers of the President: John F. Kennedy (Jan. 30, 1961), available at http://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/JFK-Quotations.aspx#P.


Last modified: Jan. 17, 2014