Menendez: ‘Ethnically Diverse America’ Requires We All Adjust

The “multicultural future” is here, and it’s time to embrace it — and acknowledge that people of color add to the U.S. marketplace, the senator from New Jersey says.

Next, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) provided keynote remarks. 
National Journal
Sen. Robert Menendez
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Sen. Robert Menendez
Nov. 27, 2013, midnight

Robert Men­en­dez, New Jer­sey’s seni­or sen­at­or, de­livered the key­note ad­dress at Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s “Path­ways to Suc­cess” event on Nov. 7. A Demo­crat, he joined the U.S. House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives in 1993 and has served as sen­at­or since 2006. Al­tern­ately, watch the video and the con­ver­sa­tion that fol­lowed his speech. Be­low is a tran­script of his pre­pared re­marks.

Thank you for in­vit­ing me today and thank you to Na­tion­al Journal for hav­ing the foresight to see, un­der­stand, and ad­dress the pro­found so­cial, cul­tur­al, eth­nic, and polit­ic­al changes that will come with “the next Amer­ica,” a more eth­nic­ally di­verse Amer­ica that will re­quire all of us to ad­just and make the changes we need to make to help make the next Amer­ica a bet­ter Amer­ica. Na­tion­al Journ­al is tak­ing a real­ist­ic look at who we are, what Amer­ica will look like, and what we can do to max­im­ize the eco­nom­ic op­por­tun­ity that will come with the seis­mic demo­graph­ic shift we are see­ing. It is re­cog­niz­ing the im­port­ance of mak­ing sure our pub­lic policies work for all Amer­ic­ans — and spe­cific­ally for Lati­nos, Asi­ans, Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans, Nat­ive Amer­ic­ans, and oth­er un­der­rep­res­en­ted groups — for these are the policies that will help Amer­ica as a whole.

There is no doubt that the mul­ti­cul­tur­al fu­ture we knew would someday come — is already here. The fact is — ac­cord­ing to a study done by the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress — “people of col­or already con­sti­tute the ma­jor­ity in 49 of the na­tion’s 366 met­ro­pol­it­an re­gions” and “by 2050, non-His­pan­ic whites will make up 47 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, with com­munit­ies of col­or com­bin­ing to form a sol­id 53 per­cent ma­jor­ity.” And it leads us to the in­ev­it­able con­clu­sion that di­versity is not something to tol­er­ate, but rather something we must em­brace for the good of all of us and for the good of our com­pet­it­ive­ness in the glob­al mar­ket­place … and that do­ing right by com­munit­ies of col­or is do­ing what’s right for the coun­try.

The eco­nom­ic stat­ist­ics and be­ne­fits re­lated to di­versity are astound­ing. Di­versity ac­tu­ally drives in­nov­a­tion and cre­ates new mar­kets. It provides a sig­ni­fic­antly ex­pan­ded con­sumer base for ex­ist­ing busi­nesses and start-ups. The Latino mar­ket alone ac­counts for $1.2 tril­lion. Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans also rep­res­ent a tril­lion-dol­lar mar­ket, and Nat­ive Amer­ic­ans and Asi­ans con­trib­ute bil­lions more to our eco­nomy each year. The im­press­ive pur­chas­ing power of ra­cial and eth­nic groups shouldn’t sur­prise us giv­en the growth in en­tre­pren­eur­ship in our com­munit­ies: Between 2002 and 2007 the num­ber of minor­ity-owned busi­nesses out­paced the na­tion­al av­er­age, and rev­en­ues grew more than twice as fast.

But di­versity also makes cor­por­a­tions per­form bet­ter. We know that di­verse teams solve prob­lems bet­ter. They’re bet­ter at de­vel­op­ing new ideas, and bet­ter at com­ing up with in­nov­at­ive solu­tions. There’s no ques­tion that di­versity is a fun­da­ment­al ele­ment of a good busi­ness mod­el: A study com­mis­sioned by CalP­ERS found that com­pan­ies with di­verse boards ex­ceeded Dow Jones and Nas­daq av­er­age re­turns over five years, and com­pan­ies that did not have di­verse boards were at a com­pet­it­ive dis­ad­vant­age. Ad­vocacy groups like Cata­lyst have found that For­tune 500 com­pan­ies with high­er per­cent­ages of wo­men board dir­ect­ors fin­an­cially out­per­form com­pan­ies with few­er wo­men dir­ect­ors. A Cal­vert study also found that those com­pan­ies that demon­strate a ro­bust com­mit­ment to di­versity, in ad­di­tion to com­pet­it­ive fin­an­cial per­form­ance, are bet­ter po­si­tioned to gen­er­ate long-term value for their share­hold­ers.

At the same time that di­versity spurs in­nov­a­tion and will cre­ate good, 21st-cen­tury jobs, we have to real­ize that our chan­ging pop­u­la­tion will need the skills to meet the re­quire­ments of those jobs and that as our pop­u­la­tion changes our edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem must keep up with those changes. The face of our school-age pop­u­la­tion is chan­ging with the times: Lati­nos alone now make up 25 per­cent of all U.S. pub­lic-school stu­dents and rep­res­ent the largest ra­cial or eth­nic minor­ity group on col­lege cam­puses in the U.S.

But des­pite our grow­ing num­bers, gradu­ation and at­tain­ment rates for minor­it­ies are still linger­ing be­hind. By the end of this dec­ade — 66 per­cent of jobs will already re­quire at least some post­sec­ond­ary edu­ca­tion. But des­pite the de­mand for high-skilled work­ers, only 19 per­cent of Lati­nos, 23 per­cent of Nat­ive Amer­ic­ans, and 27 per­cent of Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans have col­lege de­grees — all con­sid­er­ably less than the rate of col­lege de­gree at­tain­ment among whites (43 per­cent).

If that con­tin­ues the skills gap that already ex­ists will only widen.

The gap be­comes even clear­er when we real­ize that Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans and His­pan­ics make up 27 per­cent of the work­force today and by 2050 that will rise to 42 per­cent of the work­force. Clearly, we’ll need to re­tool and re­build to meet these chal­lenges and find a work­able frame­work for the de­vel­op­ment of part­ner­ships based on equal­ity and hu­man ca­pa­city, giv­ing every Amer­ic­an a chance at a de­cent job, and a good edu­ca­tion. It is time to get to work and real­ize the eco­nom­ic be­ne­fits and op­por­tun­it­ies that come with di­versity — and we can start with mak­ing sure we pass com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form.

The Sen­ate has worked across the aisle and taken a step for­ward — in a spir­it of bi­par­tis­an­ship — to make sure there are no second-class cit­izens in this coun­try, no one liv­ing in the shad­ows without a chance to con­trib­ute and make a bet­ter life for them­selves. As a mem­ber of the Sen­ate “Gang of Eight,” I can tell you the pro­cess was dif­fi­cult, but it ended with a bi­par­tis­an com­prom­ise that — I be­lieve — would fix our broken im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem and bring 11 mil­lion im­mig­rants out of the shad­ows if we could get the House to act.

The fact is, fix­ing the broken im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem would in­crease Amer­ica’s GDP by over $800 bil­lion over 10 years. And it will in­crease wages of all Amer­ic­ans by $470 bil­lion over 10 years and in­crease jobs by 121,000 per year. Im­mig­rants will start small busi­nesses. They’ll cre­ate jobs for Amer­ic­an work­ers. At the end of the day, we have to find a way to har­ness that eco­nom­ic power. The CBO re­por­ted that im­mig­ra­tion re­form could re­duce the de­fi­cit by $197 bil­lion over the next dec­ade and by an­oth­er $700 bil­lion more between 2024 and 2033 through changes in dir­ect spend­ing and rev­en­ues. We’re talk­ing about al­most a tril­lion dol­lars in de­fi­cit spend­ing that we can lift from the backs of the next gen­er­a­tion. What oth­er single piece of le­gis­la­tion in­creases GDP growth, in­creases wages, in­creases jobs and lowers the de­fi­cit?

But, clearly, we’re not there yet. We have a lot of work left to do to get to com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form, and the be­ne­fits that would flow from it. And, clearly, we have a lot to dis­cuss today about mak­ing the “next Amer­ica” a bet­ter, smarter, more in­nov­at­ive and pro­duct­ive Amer­ica.

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