Community Development

The Future of the American Dream is Latino

March 2, 2018  • Nicole Corea

Maria Rios is the queen of trash. That’s not an insult— Rios is proud to be the first Latina business owner in the male-dominated waste management industry. She built Nation Waste from the ground up, growing it out of a business plan she devised while studying at the University of Houston.

Latinos like Rios play a large and expanding role in the US economy. Today they compose 17.6 percent of the population. By 2060 they are expected to make up nearly 30 percent. Ensuring that all Latino workers, consumers, and business owners are better able to connect and thrive in the economy is pivotal to its overall success. Last week, the Aspen Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program and Latinos and Society Program gathered a panel of experts to discuss how Latinos will shape the future of the American Dream.

Rios and her parents escaped the civil war in El Salvador when she was 13 years old. They sought safety and opportunity in the United States. Today, she strives to create opportunities for her employees by providing them with the skills and training they need to secure management positions. This allows Rios to create better jobs for her community while reducing turnover rates in her company. “I want Nation Waste not to just be one stop,” she said. “I want it to be a destination with solid and sustainable positions for my people.”

 Jose Corona is pushing for similar corporate culture changes in Oakland, California. As the director of equity and strategic partnerships for the mayor’s office, he encourages companies to invest in the local community through their hiring and philanthropic practices. Corona is especially concerned about young Latinos who will soon form a large part of the US workforce. He helps create public-private partnerships to ensure that the jobs of the future are higher quality. 

The Workers Lab is an innovation lab that develops new ways to build power for working Americans. Like Corona, CEO Carmen Rojas is concerned about the quality of jobs occupied by Latinos. They are currently overrepresented in jobs that do not provide security, training, or mobility. “The overall economy isn’t working well for people in the US, but for Latinos it’s even worse,” Rojas said. She works to create jobs that meet the fundamental needs of workers so they can imagine a life beyond mere survival.

Latinos are represented across the entire occupational spectrum says Marie Mora, professor of economics at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Creating opportunities for Latinos means granting them greater access to capital. While this capital exists, it needs to flow and function differently in order to be equitable. The Latino community was targeted for subprime loans before the most recent recession. This has led to a low level of trust in financial institutions. Trust can be rebuilt through better lending practices that meet the needs of minority entrepreneurs and allow them to step out of their networks.

12 percent of all US businesses were Latino-owned in 2012. Additionally, Latinos compose a large share of new entrepreneurs, growing from 10 percent to 20.8 percent between 1995 and 2015. To keep our economy competitive, government and business must help the Latino community realize their potential by understanding their culture, addressing their needs, and creating new opportunities. This means creating better quality jobs and improving the ones that currently exist by providing higher wages and more benefits.

“Latinos and Latinas have a lot of talent and that’s important for the overall economy,” Rios said. The future of Latino prosperity will drive the nation’s prosperity.

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Ensuring that all Latino workers, consumers, and business owners are better able to connect and thrive in the economy is pivotal to its overall success.


“I want to have solid and sustainable positions for my people.” -@NationWasteInc President & CEO @mriosNWI explains why providing quality jobs at her organization matters for both her employees and her business.


“There’s a way to do business that does good for the community as well.” -@jcorona44 on what it means to be a good corporate citizen.


Latinos are overrepresented in jobs that do not provide security, training, or mobility. @theworkerslab CEO @crojasphd discusses why that’s a problem for the US economy.


Latino business owners face significant barriers to business success. @marietmora believes increasing Latinos’ access to capital could help make a difference.