Since the November election, there has been much talk in Washington and on the pundit circuit about America's changing demographics, especially the "Latino vote" and the new realities of political campaigning. There has also been considerable wrangling over immigration and what it means for a country that is a nation of immigrants but is more crowded than it once was.
The immigration debate is significant to America's politics and culture, but it is also crucial to the country's economics, a subject that receives too little attention. Let's be blunt: The future wealth and well-being of the American people—the country's economic security, national security, business innovation, GDP growth and status in the global marketplace—require a comprehensive solution to the chronic problems caused by a broken immigration policy. In particular, the status of 11 million unauthorized Latino immigrants now living here must be resolved.
The economics are simple: Latinos spur demand. Seventy percent of the nation's gross domestic product is fueled by consumer spending. That means the Latino population—large, growing and increasingly prosperous—will play a key role in America's economic future.
Latinos are now by far the country's biggest minority-market segment. Including unauthorized residents, the Latino population now exceeds 54 million (not counting nearly four million in Puerto Rico). Blacks, in second place, number 39 million. The Latino population has increased by more than 52% since 2000. In the same period, the non-Latino white population grew less than 2% and blacks by 14%.
According to U.S. Census forecasts, the Latino population in America will reach 133 million by 2050. Those 133 million American Latinos will outnumber the populations of Japan and Russia, whose numbers are already in decline.
With growing numbers comes more spending: Latino purchasing power now exceeds $1.2 trillion and, according to the University of Georgia's Selig Center, will top $1.5 trillion by 2015. From a global perspective...