Conference dedicated to memory of Bertha A. Garza
SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Dr. Cruz Torres, a Texas A&M University professor emeritus, recently addressed a convention of state employees who work with families to remind them that changing demographics mean huge changes for all Texans.
“The changing profile of the citizens of the state of Texas has occurred and will continue to occur,” she said. “And it will have huge implications for everybody, but especially taxpayers and that growing segment of our population that provides services. That would include educators, caregivers, those who hire people, people who sell cars and houses, everybody.”
Torres was a keynote speaker at the 2013 annual conference of the Texas Extension Association for Family and Consumer Sciences, “Building Bridges: Connecting Families and Communities,” held Aug. 14-16 at the Hilton Garden Inn in South Padre Island.
The conference was dedicated to the memory of Bertha Garza, considered to be a pioneer of the model used to provide educational and self-help opportunities to Hispanic audiences.
“Our changing demographics have had a bimodal shift, a two-pronged change,” Torres said. “There’s the large segment of our population that’s aging and retiring, a significantly non-Hispanic white population, and there’s that other large segment of the very young, a significantly Hispanic population. Combined, those two large segments of our state population mean greatly reduced household incomes, which mean reduced state tax revenues.”
The aging population is prevalent in both Texas and the rest of U.S., Torres said.
“We have an older Anglo, or non-Hispanic white, population that has been steadily aging, while at the same time we have an increasing minority population, whether Asian, Hispanic, what have you. But the major minority is Hispanic, the youngest minority in the U.S.”
Torres said that among Hispanics, Mexican Americans are the youngest of the youngest.
“In the broader Latino population, you have both the oldest and the youngest minorities in the country,” she said. “If broken down to its components, Latinos are very dissimilar. The Cubans are the oldest Latinos, and the Mexican Americans are the youngest.”
The changing demographics impact state and national economies, she said.
“Household income depends on the education level of the head of the household,” she said. “Salaries increase as education increases. Latino and Mexican American populations have the lowest level of educational attainment in the nation and the state. At the same time, the Anglo population is aging and retiring, which puts them in a different economic category with a lower, fixed income and less disposable income for consumer spending.”
Latinos, because they are largely young, are at the beginning of their income producing years and have less education. Hence, they are in a lower income category, Torres said. Overall lower incomes put the state and nation at risk because tax revenue is funded by those who work.
“We’re at risk for an economic downturn because tax revenue is funded by the working population. Low income, low skills, low age and low benefits combine to reduce government income at a time when both the old and young will need services,” she said. “The elderly will need their care and the young will need assistance with education. Those providing these services will need to be educated and highly skilled. But where will they come from?”
The overriding question of all this, Torres said, is whether Texas is willing to educate the current and future generations in the same way they’ve been educated in the past.
“In 2011, Anglos became the minority in public education, the lowest rate ever of Anglo students in our public education system,” she said. “And that percentage will continue to decrease. By 2050, Anglos will make up only 15 percent of the public school population in Texas.”
The availability of education is already changing, Torres said.
“As the minority population in Texas increases in numbers, education is becoming more expensive and less accessible. So our national, state and local leaders will have many tough decisions as the demographics continue to change.”
On the positive side, consumer spending will continue increasing, Torres said.
“Since we’re becoming a young population, we’re becoming a consumer population. Young people, whether immigrant or citizen, need to set up households. They need to buy everything from toothbrushes to cars and homes.”
That need, Torres said, translates into a tremendous Latino buying power.
“Between 1990 and 2011 Latino buying power increased 457 percent,” she said, “while Anglo buying power increased by only 11 percent during the same time period. In 2010, across the nation, Latino consumer spending topped $1 trillion. By 2015, that will increase by 50 percent to $1.5 trillion.”
Torres left her audience with “the words of a great Texan, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who said, ‘We must open the doors of opportunity, but we must also equip our people to walk through those doors.’”
Yolanda Morado, an AgriLife Extension agent for family and consumer sciences in Starr County, said the conference was designed to help agents throughout the state.
“One of the conference objectives was to provide cultural experiences for agents from throughout the state that demonstrated the great diversity and contributions of our border region, which will help our co-workers in other parts of the state better understand the clientele moving into their counties.”
Dr. Ruben Saldana, the AgriLife Extension district administrator in South Texas, said the conference was dedicated to the memory of Bertha A. Garza, who worked with AgriLife Extension for almost 37 years, from 1969 to 2006.
“We honor Bertha Garza for the milestone achievements she made to further AgriLife Extension family and consumer sciences,” Saldana said. “She was one of the first Hispanic female AgriLife Extension educators, and she accomplished milestone achievements throughout her career.”
Among her many achievements, Saldana said, Garza developed the concept of the Master Volunteer, which trains community members to train others in family wellness issues such as nutrition, health, parenting, personal finance, home repairs, self-employment and others.
“She blazed trails in family and consumer sciences by developing programs that targeted families in colonias, public housing and communities known for their need,” he said. “She expanded 4-H programs to increase scholarship and leadership opportunities for minority youth in South Texas. But her reach went much farther than South Texas as many of her programs are still used in many other regions and states.”
Garza retired as the AgriLife Extension district administrator in South Texas in 2006. She died in 2009.