As the baby boom generation retires and worries about the viability of Social Security worsen, the U.S. federal government is keeping an eye on the number of young people, defined as those under age 20. The latest government estimate for the last decade shows that the number of U.S. young people would have declined were it not for Latinos, who accounted for all the growth. Today these mostly native-born U.S. citizens make up nearly a quarter of the nation’s youth population.
Of course, the nation must be able not merely to count, but also to count on its young. They are society’s future innovators, culture makers, defenders and leaders. Without enough young, societies languish. And societies bring suffering upon themselves whenever they fail to prepare their young for leadership or to foster among them idealism and an inclination toward excellence. Societies can rightly be judged by how they value their own young people.
That means young people ought to be able to count on the United States, too. How well does the nation value them? Here the numbers and measures fall short, particularly in the area of education. I’ll give just one example: three-quarters of Latinos (16 to 25) cut their education short during or after high school in order to support their families, according to research by the PEW Hispanic Center. Apparently, Latinos need more support to enable their young to stay in school. The precise kinds of support should be sorted out by government, church and civic groups, and soon. But this much is obvious: Education is a requirement for most good jobs—the very kind that can secure a healthy future not just for pensioners or for Latino Americans, but for the nation. Who is keeping an eye on the number of Latino graduates from high school and college? Who is seeing that this number grows in proportion with the Latino population?