Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More than 10% of Houstonians are "Unbanked"

A closer look on Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. released on its national survey of "underbanked" and "unbanked" households. The number only broke out for the 20 largest metropolitan statistical areas.

About 7.7 million of the nation's households don't use a financial institution. They're the unbanked who exist on a cash economy. When they are paid with a check, they take it to a check-cashing service. When they need to send a check, they buy a money order, or maybe they wire money, or they put the money into a reloadable debit card. When they need a loan, they go to payday loan or auto title loan shops. The most frequent reason people gave for not having a bank was feeling they didn't have enough money to warrant opening an account

Another 17.9 percent are underbanked: They have a checking or a savings account, but they occasionally use alternative services - money orders, pawn shops, payday lenders, even refund-anticipation loans. And the underbanked said speed and cost were the reason they use check-cashing business and other non-bank operations.

Texas banking connections are quite a bit below the national averages. Only about 60 percent of the state's 8.89 million households are considered "fully banked." An estimated 11.7 percent are living on an all-cash basis and about 24.1 percent are considered underbanked. It's no surprise that Dallas and Houston household figures are better than the state numbers. The surprise is in how little they really differ.

An estimated 10.6 percent of Houston-area households are unbanked, while Dallas is at 10.9 percent. About 21 percent of Houston's households are considered underbanked, while in Dallas, the number is about 23.5 percent.

Who are the people who aren't using banks?
They're the low income. Nearly a third of Texas households with annual incomes below $15,000 and almost 21 percent of families with incomes between $15,000 and $30,000 are considered unbanked.
Surprisingly, nearly a third of households with incomes between $30,000 and $50,000 in Texas are considered underbanked.

About 46.1 percent of Hispanic households and 42.4 percent of black households are considered "not underbanked."

The FDIC report estimates nearly 30 percent of people without high school diplomas run on an all-cash basis, compared with 15.1 percent of people with a high school diploma, 7.2 percent with some college, and 1.5 percent who have at least a four-year degree.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

As American as Tres Leches

The 2010 Census will radically alter the demographic map and the rules of engagement between Hispanic and general-market shops. Hispanic Americans continue to grow in number at a rate four times that of the general population, with the 2010 Census expected to show their total rising to nearly 50 million, from 38 million in 2000. And second-generation Hispanics are fast becoming the driver of the group's growth, with 88 percent of Hispanic children born in America, versus 61 percent of adults.
As a result, agencies that market to this segment are finding themselves in a strong position, armed with the skills and techniques to take on general assignments from big-name clients. Meanwhile, in a tight business environment, general agencies are starting to compete for work previously reserved for specialist shops.

"In the 2010 Census, we'll see confirmation of a shift from Hispanic consumers who are first generation, where Spanish is the dominant language, to second-generation, bilingual, bicultural consumers. It totally transforms how we market," says Cynthia McFarlane, chair of Publicis Groupe's Conill, a Latino agency. There is a new American culture forming, and these consumers are having a tremendous impact on mainstream America."

McDonald's, which sees higher brand loyalty among its Hispanic consumers, has added offerings like breakfast burritos to its national menu. In further evidence of the growing bilingual voice of Hispanic consumers, McDonald's runs ads with Spanish taglines in general-market media, and earlier this year used "Spanglish" in general-market advertising for the Quarter Pounder.

Hispanics now have about $863 billion in discretionary annual income, more than any other minority group in the country. (As of the third quarter, Americans overall had disposable income of $10.8 trillion.) Agencies argue that spending power is still underestimated and that upcoming Census findings -- expected to be released beginning in early 2011 -- will deliver a wake-up call to marketers.
"It will be a huge eye-opener when we see the growing affluence of the Hispanic marketplace, not just in buying power but also in household wealth," says Conill's McFarlane. In 2006, Toyota liked a Conill TV concept for the Camry so well; it turned it into a Super Bowl spot.

"There are certain categories, geographies, brands where the Hispanic market is now the general market and the Hispanic marketing strategy will be the overriding strategy," says Alex Lopez Negrete, CCO at independent Lopez Negrete Communications in Houston.

Language does remain an important factor. Some 44 percent of Hispanic consumers say, at home, they speak Spanish only or more often than English; 25 percent say they are equally bilingual; and 31 percent use English only or more often than Spanish, according to research from Synovate and Nielsen. (That last number offers a glimpse of the future Hispanic marketplace: Among second-generation consumers, 93 percent say they are bilingual or English dominant.)

Uncle Sam Saves You Money

This time the offer to save money does not come from a local furniture store. The bearded Uncle Sam is willing to pitch in up to $ 1500 of the cost, if you are willing to replace existing low efficiency air conditioners and windows, or upgrade existing insulation of your home during 2009 and 2010.

The payment is done through a tax credit when you report your 2009 and/or 2010 taxes. The total claim cannot be for more than $ 1500, including claims for 2009 and 2010 combined.

So, the question that you may be asking is, is it worth to do the changes or upgrades? The answer is very likely yes. The only hesitation you may have is if your home is relatively new and you have a better use for the moneys you will spend with your upgrades.

There are some other things to consider. Even a relatively new home may increase its selling value by upgrading the most efficient air conditioner, or windows and insulation of walls and roofs. As buyers become more energy conscious, they look at energy expenses more closely.

If your home needs new windows or new roof, then, the answer to the question is a resounding yes! Do not hesitate to go for the energy savings version of the air conditioner, or insulation. You not only will get partially reimbursed by Uncle Sam, you will also pay less in energy expenses and increase the value of your nest.

For more information, you may want to visit Uncle Sam’s official websites:

• How do I determine if I can collect the tax credit? click here

• What is the maximum tax credit I can get for the energy efficient home improvements? click here

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Flavors of Latin America: Tequila, Ron, or Pisco?

Each year, we commemorate the National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors speak the same language with different accents and came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Spanish is the national language of 19 countries and Puerto Rico. Each one has it own standard dialect flavor.

The most common Spanish dialect taught in the U.S. is standard Latin American. It is sometimes called "Highland" Americans’ Spanish since it is generally spoken in the mountainous areas of Latin America. (Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Bolivia)

This dialect is noted for its pronunciation of each letter and its strong "r" sounds. This Spanish was spoken in Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and was brought to the Americas by the early colonists.

The second major type of Spanish is spoken in the Caribbean (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, the Colombian Caribbean and some areas of Nicaragua), and in some cases in southern Spain. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the accent in Seville, Cádiz, and other cities in Andalusia, in Southern Spain, began to change. Speakers began to drop the final "s" on words. The settlers and traders of southern Spain took this dialect with them to the Caribbean and other coastal areas.

The third type of Spanish is in Central American spoken in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. In the South American Pacific comprise Chile, Ecuador and Paraguay.

A fourth type of Spanish has developed in Argentina and Uruguay. It is characterized by some out-of-date grammar, and a vocabulary and pronunciation heavily influenced by Italians who settled the area in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Generally in the Spanish world "tú" is the singular way of saying "you." In Argentina, however, "vos" is used instead. It is accompanied by a modified old Spanish verb form. It is as if part of the English-speaking world still used "thee" and "thou" in everyday speech.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Annise Parker: Hire Houston First

Annise Parker is Houston's City Controller and is running for Mayor in the November 2009 elections. We asked the four candidates to answer two questions. Here are the questions and the answers from Annise Parker's office:

LBN: The recession is affecting our small business community more severely than the larger organizations in this city. Can you share three initiatives that, in your view, can be promoted from the position of Houston Mayor to help small businesses?

AP: I have proposed a Hire Houston First policy, which will encourage the city to contract with local businesses that create local jobs. You can find my Hire Houston First policy at this website. In this tough economy, we must do everything we can to create new jobs and keep our residents working. The starting point should be making sure that jobs funded by our local tax dollars go first to local workers and keep our tax dollars circulating in the local economy. This will include a Regional Jobs Alliance. Some of us live in Houston and work in Bellaire. Some companies are based in Sugar Land but create good jobs for Houston residents. Our competition is not Bellaire or Sugar Land – it’s Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta.

I support the use of economic development incentives that create jobs and bring revenue to the city so we can keep taxes low. Unlike the current mayor, I support the use of tax abatements to encourage companies that provide good jobs with good benefits to locate in Houston. But, these incentives must be tied to measurable results – like the creation of jobs – and the recipients should be required to repay the money if they don’t live up to their part of the bargain.

In today’s economic crisis, we are seeing that maintaining and upgrading our aging infrastructure is more than just a problem to solve – it’s an opportunity to create good, local jobs that will power our local economy while responding to pressing needs. For example, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that $1 of infrastructure spending can boost the economy anywhere from $1 - $2.50. Moody’s’s chief economist pegs it at $1.59. That’s why I have proposed reforms to the way we maintain and upgrade our infrastructure.

* Federal Stimulus Program & Transparency: The federal government has made it clear that, for local governments to receive more federal stimulus funds, they must demonstrate accountability with the federal stimulus dollars already in the pipeline. That’s why I created a website that allows the public to track the city’s use of federal stimulus dollars – and hold local government accountable to make sure those dollars are being used to create jobs.

LBN: The perception is that crime in the city periphery has increased in the last several months. Can you mention three proposals that can reduce the level of criminality?

AP: Although statistics show a drop in violent crimes, property crimes are on the rise. As Mayor, I will protect the police department budget in this economic downturn. Protecting our law enforcement budget without raising taxes is a difficult but necessary balancing act. I have a track record of fiscal responsibility, using tough audits to cut millions of dollars in fraud and waste – money that is now funding priorities like police, firefighters, after-school programs and economic development.

We need a police department that will protect our citizens while treating all Houstonians with dignity and respect. You can find my detailed plan for improving public safety at this website.
We owe it to the public, and to the men and women who risk their lives every day to keep us safe, to give our police officers the most up-to-date tools to do their jobs. That means using enhanced technology to get real-time crime data to the patrol officers on the street who can best utilize the information to fight crime.
We also need better coordination with the many law enforcement agencies in our area. If you are being robbed, you don’t care what uniform they wear, you want someone with a badge and gun to help you.

We absolutely need more police officers, which is why I am committed to maintaining an aggressive program of police cadet classes. In Houston’s last major economic downturn, we closed the police academy to save money. That was a big mistake, which won’t happen during my administration. And because public safety is so essential to everything we do, we have to have a chief that has his fingers on the pulse of the city. I am committed to replacing our current chief, and I believe the new police chief should come from within the ranks of HPD.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tun on the Green Light

Almost all consumer products these days are protected in disposable containers, usually made of plastic, paper, cardboard, wood, metal, glass, or a combination of them. Most products themselves are made of an increasingly complex mix of the same materials. While we wished that our Texas Legislature would pass laws encouraging recycling of those packaging materials, the reality is that Texas is a laissez faire state, and the probability of having a serious plan agreed by our envoys to Austin, any time soon, is slim. So, what is there for us to do, until the green light shines on our State Capitol?

The city of Houston is doing its part. In the last few years it has opened several recycling and receiving centers accepting almost all kind of domestic containers and used electronics. But those centers are not accessible to all Houstonians. Months ago, some HEB stores started receiving recyclable materials in containers located in their parking lots, but at least some of them have stopped receiving. The program seemed successful to the point that people were flooding with discarded packaging material of products purchased at HEB and at other businesses.

The city of Houston has established a recycling program but it only reaches the areas served by the city trash collection. Most neighborhoods not served by the city have established recycling programs of their own. Most of these programs severe restrictions in terms of type of materials received.

These are some suggestions we can adopt immediately, without waiting for our politicians in Austin or Houston to react:

1. Avoid buying products that are packaged with materials that are not recycled in your neighborhood, or accepted back by your store. Beverages are an example. Soft drinks come in glass, plastic or aluminum containers. Try to favor the type of container that is easier for you to recycle.

2. Some products, such as detergents are sold packaged with very thin film containers (“plastic bags”) that use substantially less plastic than conventional containers. Try to buy those products.

3. Try to use reusable bags when shopping groceries, or return the plastic bags to the store for recycling. Some stores accept the used bags.

4. When replacing batteries used in electronic gadgets, take the used ones to the store. Most stores receive your used batteries.

You will find many more areas where your immediate action can payoff. Here are some suggestions:

1. If you work for a company with many employees, ask the corresponding department in the organization (usually HS&E) to establish a recycling program if not already in place. If there are vending machines in your workplace, suggest adding recycling containers for used bottles or cans placed close to the vending machines.

2. If the local newspaper distributes unwanted weekly advertisement supplements on your sidewalk, ask them to stop the distribution to your home.

3. When your neighborhood community asks for your vote on recycling, within your possibilities, vote for more recycling, not less.

4. Contact your councilperson and ask him/her what your options for recycling are. May be the city can install a recycling container in your neighborhood.

5. Inquire the manager of the store where you buy your groceries if they have plans to receive back the containers of the products they sale. Favor the stores that receive back the containers.

Some of our politicians, organizations and even the government may be oblivious to the reality we face: more landfills, global warming, and loss of wildlife. Our politicians and government need to do their job, but in the meantime we can produce significant changes, even in Texas, why not?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Walking North, Flying South

Guatemalan mechanic Erwin Baches walked for five days across the desert and broke into the United States in search of the American Dream. Arrested, jailed and placed on a deportation flight back to Central America days ago, he is one of a growing number of illegal immigrants being sent home with that dream in tatters. "I just wanted a better life for my family," said Baches, 35, swiping away tears on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, charter flight to Guatemala City from a Phoenix-valley airport.

Immigration, particularly what to do with millions of illegal immigrants living in the shadows, is a divisive issue in the United States. As President Barack Obama tries to rally support in the U.S. Congress to revive comprehensive immigration reform this year, his government is removing the United States' unauthorized population at a gathering pace.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Flight Operations Unit, carrying out a policy begun under former President George W. Bush, has moved an average of 4,200 unauthorized migrants a week this year, up from 3,700 last year. Obama is seeking support among Democratic and Republican lawmakers to fix the broken immigration system in the United States, where almost 12 million illegal immigrants live and work in the shadows. He supports offering those in good standing the chance to pay a fine and become citizens, at the same time cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers and hardening security along the Mexico border.

The ICE Office of Detention and Removal Operations deports to more than 190 countries. Each weekday it averages 9 or 10 charter flights, a service dubbed "ICE Air" by news media, most of them bound for Central and South America and the Caribbean. Critics say deportation is simply a revolving door as migrants frequently make their way back to the United States and resume their lives. But ICE says deportation acts as a deterrent to many, and shows others that there are consequences for breaking into the United States, particularly if they commit crimes.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

80,000 Missed Opportunities

Texas has missed the opportunity to offer health care coverage to 80,000 of the state’s uninsured children. Even though health insurance for children was a priority in this year’s session, the Legislature failed to act on a proposal to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Twenty-two percent of Texas children lack health insurance, amounting to a total 1.5 million uninsured youth. At the national level 12 percent of children are uninsured, making Texas the state with the largest number of uninsured children in the country.

The fact that one out of every five children in Texas doesn’t have health insurance raises the question: What kept our state lawmakers from intervening and ensuring the passage of the CHIP expansion bill?

CHIP provides health coverage for children whose working families make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but still can’t afford private health insurance plans. Eligible parents have a maximum yearly income of $44,100 for a family of four. The CHIP expansion bill would have extended eligibility to families of four that earned up to $66,150 and paid a monthly premium for the coverage. The expansion plan would have worked in favor of Texas Hispanic children, who are 3.5 times more likely to live in poverty and 2.5 times more likely to be uninsured than their Anglo counterparts.

Money was not the problem in the CHIP decision. Federal matching funds were available through the CHIP reauthorization law signed in January. Additionally, the state could lower the cost of emergency rooms and loss of workforce productivity by keeping children healthy.

Since parents of uninsured children can’t meet the expense of preventive treatment, they tend to wait until their children’s health reaches critical condition to get them medical attention. Parents must then resort to expensive hospitals and emergency care funded by taxpayers.

CHIP, on the other hand, returns money to taxpayers’ pockets. The federal government matches every dollar that Texas invests in CHIP with approximately $2.65 in federal funds. By failing to invest in CHIP and add more children to the program, our state is losing out on a federal contribution of millions of dollars that could relieve some of the state’s current financial burden.

Our lawmakers have denied CHIP expansion to higher income children this year, but more than half of Texas uninsured children are still qualified for enrolment in CHIP and Medicaid under current eligibility rules. The state now needs to reach out to these eligible families and increase enrolment in the program.

It is time for Texas legislators to tune out their political battles and put the children first. Texas leaders must attend to the health insurance demands of our youth to ensure they grow into healthy adults and build a prosperous future for our state.

© Latin Breaking News

Friday, May 29, 2009

Should You Care Who Governs Your City?

How many of us know our City Hall representatives, why we must elect them, or what they do once they hold a seat in city government?

Last May, only 4,186 ballots were cast from more than 93,000 registered voters in the special election to fill the District H seat vacated by Adrian Garcia. The number of voters accounted for less than 4.5 percent of the potential voter pool.

The low voter turnout was also reflected in the 2007 mayoral election, when only 117,098 out of 930,000 registered voters in the city of Houston showed up at the polls. Yet the presidential election attracted 1.18 million, or 60.3 percent of Harris County registered voters to cast a ballot in 2008.

Hispanics can no longer be used as scapegoats for the voter turnout since voter presence at council elections is lacking from the general population and not from a single ethnic group. Take District H as an example, where the electorate is 42 percent Hispanic and 45 percent Anglo.

So why don’t Houstonians attend to their local elections like they do to presidential and other national voting? The lack of participation in local politics may stem from the belief among constituents that their vote won’t make a difference in the overall future of the city or from the poor performance of past and current council members that alienates citizens from visiting the polls.

Indifference toward city elections also derives from failing to provide constituents adequate information about the candidates, the work that their position entails and the political process itself. Local elections call for the civil education of Houstonians. The city should take responsibility for teaching every resident about their leaders and representatives, the role of city council, and why their voice is important in community elections.

If you plan on brushing aside the June 13 run-off election for District H councilman or the November 3 election for city of Houston mayor, consider first what is at stake.

The council works with the mayor in matters of legislation and budget. It supervises city agencies, confirms the mayor’s appointments and approves city expenditures. A leader elected by a minimal percentage of the population may not be able to see to the demands of an entire city or community.

Houston’s city council is made up of 14 members, nine from specific districts and five elected citywide; each member is allowed to serve up to three two-year terms. Today there is only one Hispanic councilman serving a city that is 40 percent Hispanic. The District H election presents the opportunity to place a second Hispanic in city council and maintain the representation formerly assigned to Adrian Garcia before he left to become Harris County sheriff.

Voting for a city council member is as important as electing a mayor, a governor, or even a president, considering city council represents the needs of your particular community. Decide wisely. Your representative will have an impact on decision-making that targets issues such as land use, public safety, transportation, flooding, education, housing and the environment.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Texas' Future Demands Our Action

High dropout rates across Texas pose a risk to the financial future of the state, particularly in big cities such as Houston.

According to a study by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, more than 120,000 Texas students failed to graduate in 2006 and 70 percent of all non-graduates were minority students. Hispanic males were the lowest-performing group, graduating at a rate of less than 53 percent.

A study by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that most dropouts leave school because classes are not interesting or they have missed too many days to catch up. Other reasons include failing, pregnancy, a lack of motivation to work hard, the need to get a job, and not getting along with teachers and classmates. Whatever the reasons for dropping out, the increasing loss of students in Texas has serious economic implications for the state. The graduation crisis not only affects the labor opportunities of individuals who don’t finish school, it also damages the economic health of their communities.

Almost 20 percent of Houston adults ages 25-64 didn’t finish high school and have an income averaging less than $15,000. The average annual earnings in the U.S. are $20,000 for people who didn’t finish high school, $30,000 for high school graduates and nearly $60,000 for individuals with bachelor degrees.

Texas Kids Count reports that keeping everyone in school would cost Texas an additional $1.7 billion for more teachers, more textbooks, more after-school programs and more space. However, if every 16-19 year-old in Texas graduated from high school, then the state’s earnings could increase by $865 million per year, or $3billion in four years, which would be more than enough to cover the education costs.

Higher incomes are only available where jobs are available. A study from the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation reports that dropouts reduce Texas employment by more than 302,000 jobs. The pattern is simple: Quality well-paying jobs require well-educated and productive workers. If Texas residents fail to receive a good education, they reduce the productivity of the Texas economy. Dropouts accept jobs with lower earnings that result in reduced spending. Less spending translates into less demand and less available jobs.

Dropouts are also more likely to need government assistance than high school graduates, increasing state spending in food stamps, housing assistance and Medicaid. Moreover, approximately three-fourths of state prison inmates are high school dropouts, accounting for an extra $12 million annual expense. The Friedman Foundation study concluded that high school dropouts are costing Texas taxpayers $337 million per year in lost tax revenue, increased Medicaid costs and increased incarceration.

Lowering the dropout numbers is essential to fuel the future of our city and our state. The cycle that starts with less high school dropouts and ends with a prosperous economy is challenging, but collaboration between school districts and their surrounding communities offers a potential cure to the “silent epidemic.”

Texas has a responsibility to feed its youth a proper education and prepare a strong work force. It is time to act collectively to eradicate dropouts if we want to keep our cities safe from a crumbling economy.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Cinco de Mayo: What Comes to Mind?

As you get ready to drink your margarita, wear your sombrero and hit that piñata this Cinco de Mayo, consider first what it is exactly that you are celebrating. Or not celebrating.

While Mexicans in their native country don’t generally recognize the Cinco de Mayo holiday, partygoers in the United States have turned the date into a large festivity. The reasons for the American celebration have more to do with the U.S. Latino culture and alcohol than with history.

Cinco de Mayo marks the 1862 Battle of Puebla, where Mexican forces defeated the French army. General Ignacio Zaragoza led the Mexican troops to win despite the more numerous and better equipped French forces of Napoleon III.

The victory in Puebla is a good reason to celebrate, but Mexico ultimately lost the war against the French and one of Napoleon’s relatives, Maximilian of Austria, was left to rule Mexico from 1864 to 1867. This may be the reason why Cinco de Mayo goes largely unnoticed south of the border, except in the state of Puebla where the battle took place.
In the United States, Cinco de Mayo also made its first appearance during the 1860s. Mexicans in San Francisco lent their support to their mother country during the war by commemorating the date of the battle with private dances and speeches that addressed the significance of the day. The celebration continued with dances and parades until the 1950s.

During the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, Cinco de Mayo evolved into a tool for recognition of the Chicano culture. To Chicano activists, the Battle of Puebla symbolized perseverance and unity, and they saw the holiday as a way to build pride among Mexican Americans and celebrate their bicultural identity.

Unfortunately beer companies trumped the fight for civil rights and the original intentions to promote Latino culture. Cinco de Mayo as we know it in the United States today is the result of an exploitation of Mexican history on the part of the alcohol industry.

In his book Anything but Mexican, Rodolfo Acuña discusses how a minor holiday became the opportunity for brewers to “make alcohol a staple of Latino social life.” The Molson Coors Brewing Co. needed to save its image and market to Latinos after a group of Mexican-American activists complained about the company’s discriminatory hiring practices in the 1960s. Chicanos, on the other hand, needed funds to launch their Cinco de Mayo celebration. To silence the Chicano opposition, Coors sponsored their holiday with millions of dollars in “donations.” In exchange, Cinco de Mayo had to promote beer drinking.

Another deal in 1985 involved Mexican American organizations--the National Council of La Raza, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the American GI Forum. The organizations withdrew a boycott against Coors’ labor practices when the brewing company promised them $350 million. This growing dependence on beer companies has offset the Latino efforts for civil rights.
Latinos should celebrate their culture and heritage but not at the expense of neglecting the roots of their holidays and propagating negative drinking stereotypes. So before you get out those green, white and red streamers, think about what it really means to be Mexican, Mexican-American or Latino, or at least take some time to genuinely learn about these cultures.

Monday, April 20, 2009

12 Million SS Numbers Do Not Match

Criticism against legalizing undocumented immigrants has resurfaced as President Obama’s plans for immigration reform build momentum.

Opponents have condemned the possible legalization of undocumented immigrants on a variety of grounds--allowing immigrants to work legally when so many Americans are unemployed is irrational and granting amnesty to immigrants who broke the law when coming into this country is wrong.

The Pew Hispanic Center reports an estimate of 12 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. Texas alone is home to 1.45 million of them. Before attacking immigration reform, critics should consider why a legalization effort for this large number of immigrants is crucial in terms of economic recovery.

Researchers from the Immigration Policy Center have suggested that a change in immigration policy offers the potential to generate new revenue from income and payroll taxes. The Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that the immigration reform bills introduced in 2006 and 2007 would have increased the tax revenue by $66 billion and $48 billion respectively.

Our current policies drive undocumented immigrants to work for an underground economy outside of the tax system, resulting in a loss of revenue from personal income taxes. More important, though, are the undocumented immigrants (between 50 and 75 percent) that are paying Medicare, Social Security, federal and state income taxes without receiving any of the benefits. In 2006, the Social Security Administration reported a total $586 billion in earnings from workers who weren’t eligible for Social Security benefits because their names or numbers didn’t match SSA records.

An immigration policy that gives legal rights to undocumented workers will allow them to have better jobs and earn higher wages. Higher wages translate to more spending and more money pouring into our businesses. Immigrants have already proved to be a major economic force. A study by The Selig Center for Economic Growth at The University of Georgia reports that the Latino buying power totaled more than $950 billion in 2008, while the Asian purchasing power amounted to $509 billion. Moreover, immigrant-owned businesses generate $67 billion of the $577 billion in U.S. business revenue, according to the Small Business Administration. Immigration reform would be a step toward creating more businesses and more jobs.

The financial situation is America’s main threat, not immigrants. Instead of spending a massive $13 billion on border security and immigration enforcement, our country should be taking advantage of the contributions that a foreign-born population has to offer. The U.S. needs immigrants who can study, work, earn, spend, create businesses and pay their taxes legally to drive the economic growth.

Friday, April 3, 2009


In a sad day for print journalism, the Houston Chronicle lays off almost 200 people. Two Detroit papers end daily home delivery. The line between life and death for the San Francisco Chronicle gets thinner. Newspapers are quickly becoming an endangered species, but is this necessarily a bad thing?

As the economy worsens and more online news sites replace newspapers due to a drop in revenue from advertising and subscribers, it is difficult to ignore the developing concerns: newsroom employees losing their jobs and journalism losing its watchdog role.

Paper Cuts, a blog that tracks newspaper layoffs and buyouts, reports that in 2008 more than 15,800 newspaper jobs disappeared, while 7, 652 jobs have vanished so far in 2009. One of the tragedies of the layoffs is the loss of diversity in the newsrooms. The Newspaper Death Watch site mentioned that the positions of two women on the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle were eliminated, leaving a less diverse team in command of the newspaper. The newspaper has not published a list with the names of those laid off. also indicated that some metropolitan dailies are not leaving behind news Web sites, as is the case of the Rocky Mountain News and the Cincinnati Post. Cutting Web sites leaves more personnel without jobs and more readers short of alternatives. In addition to jobs, the traditional watchdog role is also at risk. The main worries are the growing number of bloggers and the demands of continuous news. Although bloggers can be knowledgeable and provide valuable information not found in the mainstream news, most bloggers are not trained reporters. While blogs are a tool for democratization and free speech, they should not be considered on a par with journalism because a majority of them are based on opinions instead of facts.

The pressure of nonstop online news can also affect the accuracy and depth of reporting. The quality of journalism has suffered in the growing competition among news Web sites.

Keeping newspapers alive is a serious effort for these and other reasons, but even if we wake up to a world without newspapers one morning, it will not be the end of news. On the contrary, the news demand is increasing as the Internet makes more media free and accessible.

The Internet allows news consumers to get their information from different publications, act as critical readers and form their own balanced views. Younger readers are less interested in newspapers, but links from CNN, The New York Times, and other major news sources on Twitter, Facebook and Apple applications are attracting the youth to stay informed. A Scarborough Research study found that readers aged 18-34 who viewed only the online editions of newspapers increased 21 percent between 2004 and 2007.

Laid-off and unemployed journalists should be interested in contributing to online media and providing the analysis that this medium often lacks. The shift from newspapers to the Internet has the potential to improve journalism as a whole. It is important for reporters to take advantage of the new technology to continue serving as watchdogs and do their best to monitor Houston’s social, political and economic life.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Houston: The Quest for Inclusion

Current Houston population estimates place the percentages of the different ethnic groups as follows: 41% Hispanics, 28% Whites, 24% African-Americans and 7% Asian-Americans, but the percentages of Hispanics in key positions in local organizations convey a dismal reality. Members and leaders of the Hispanic community, often voice their concern about being underrepresented in the local government and other local organizations. This is an undeniable fact. The question is, why?

In a recent series of articles written by Dr. Richard Murray (U. H.) and published in his blog at , he elaborates on the possible reasons. The first and more important he mentions, is the poor participation. Out of 41% Hispanics, only an estimated 12% voted in the last presidential elections. (12 percent of 41 percent, is less than 5% of the total potential votes!) With that level of participation, the only chance a Hispanic leader may have to become Houston Mayor, for example, is to receive a considerable support from other groups. If the Hispanic leadership cannot bring “their natural constituency” to the voting room, a more difficult challenge would be to appeal other voters.

Recently Texas Senator Mario Gallegos and other Hispanic and African-American leaders proposed legislation on non-profit organizations, specifically requesting that they “appoint a board of directors that represent the diversity of its constituents.” Actions of this type address the issue of representation, but still do not solve the one of participation, and furthermore, equate to some form of affirmative action. A representation without participation always raises the question of legitimacy, some of our website readers have pointed out.

The root cause of the poor representation in the local non-profits and local politics resides in the failure of the Hispanic leadership to convince their own constituency to participate, to vote, to volunteer, to pitch in. Breaking the indifference of the Hispanic population is the real challenge.

As with any rule, there are exceptions, of course: Harris County recently elected Adrian Garcia as its County Sheriff, from his previous position as Houston Council Member.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Rodeo 2009: The Quest for Inclusion

Senator Gallegos and Community leaders ask diversity and transparency to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

State Senator Mario Gallegos (D-Harris County) stood with leaders of the African-American and leaders of the Hispanic Community to announce the filing of legislation. They want the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to become more diverse and more transparent.

The debate is over minority representation at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo at its highest levels of leadership. This year, representatives of the African-American and Latin communities got together to address this issue in a new forum -- the state legislature.

“It is time for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to come to the 21st Century- enough with the Good Ole’ Boy System of doing business. We are calling for the Rodeo to reevaluate how they allocate scholarships, appoint members to the highest levels of the Board, and award contracts” said Senator Gallegos.

Senator Gallegos filed legislation to require, in part, non-profits to appoint a board of directors that represents the diversity of its constituents, answer open records requests and make reasonable efforts to increase minority participation in contracts.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Google Plays Hide and Seek

Just because the Internet has broken down geographic barriers, don't assume that Google doesn't care about geography. The company plans to launch software called Latitude, that lets mobile phone users share their location with close contacts. Google hopes it will help people find each other while out and about, and to keep track of loved ones.

"What Google Latitude does is allow you to share that location with friends and family members, and likewise be able to see friends and family members' locations," said Steve Lee, product manager for Google Latitude. For example, a girlfriend could use it to see if her boyfriend has arrived at a restaurant and, if not, how far away he is.

To protect privacy, Google specifically requires people to sign up for the service. People can share their precise location, the city they're in, or nothing at all. "What we found in testing is that the most common scenario is a symmetrical arrangement, where both people are sharing with each other," Lee said. Google hopes its mapping technology will lead to location-based advertising revenue. Google's power is firmly lodged in search and search advertising, but the company is trying to expand to broader online services, too. That includes online documents and various aspects of social networking, which are much more personal services and ones that put Google into more direct competition with rivals such as Microsoft, Facebook, and Yahoo. Like using Google profiles to contact information with select contacts, using Google Latitude tells Google who's who in your social graph.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Recession: Use your Brain, Not Your Wallet

Valentine's Day is coming soon and people are expecting the gifts as usual. However, the economic condition seems even worse this year. Should we cancel the Valentine's gift this year for the recession? It doesn’t matter if the answer is yes or no, your life is still on, so be optimistic about the future. If you are facing your life with a sweet smile everyday even in the hard times, you will be paid back in a whole life. So you can always find a recession-friendly gift idea and celebrate your Valentine's Day.

The objective of the gift
A gift shows your love and care for him or her. It is not just buying something and then giving it away. A right gift is a symbol of love that communicates with the other part. It can be a material one or even just a special kiss. The gift can show how much you know each other.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Multilatinas: Titans Coming North

Despite the current financial crisis, multilatinas are poised for continued expansion in pan-regional Latin markets and internationally.

As Latin American economies grew up to 2008, companies in the region have been expanding their businesses from their home countries into other Latin American countries. Now, these companies, so-called "multilatinas," are competing with other multinational companies as never before by expanding outside Latin America into other emerging markets, as well as First World countries. A multilatina is a multinational company based in a Latin American country that has become an economic titan in its home country, dominated its domestic market and sought additional markets in additional countries to facilitate its growth.

Multilatinas are now being managed and led by a new generation of better-trained and educated executives. They are now as prepared as their counterparts in North America, Europe or Asia to lead their companies and their growth. Banco Itau, Grupo Bimbo, FEMSA, Vale, Tenaris and many others are clear examples of multilatinas with world-class management teams.

They have expanded from their home countries to other countries in Latin America, and, significantly, to international markets outside Latin America. Multilatinas, which in the past may have restricted their growth to only neighboring countries, have also expanded throughout all of Latin America and into North America, Europe and emerging markets worldwide.

For example, the leading Mexican baking company Grupo Bimbo has been so successful in dominating the Mexican marketplace that no major competitor has survived. A company like this, very efficient and capable, can continue to grow only by going to other countries. They went to Central and South America and have become a major or dominant force in every country they've entered. Today, they have approximately 40 percent of the marketplace in Brazil. They entered the United States market and acquired Entenmann’s and Thomas's. They also sold their “nostalgia brands” to Americans of Hispanic heritage. Recently, they also entered the China and Czech Republic markets as well. They are truly multinational company.

China's domestic market is becoming more attractive to certain kinds of multilatinas, as is India’s, given the growth of their middle class markets. Multilatinas are also expanding into Europe, as demonstrated by the merger of the Brazilian beer and beverage company Ambev with the Belgian beer company Interbrew. The merged company, InBev, recently acquired Anheuser Busch in the United States, to form Anheuser-Busch InBev, the largest beer company in the world. Other examples of expansions by multilatinas are the acquisition of US and Canadian companies by Grupo Comex, a Mexican paint manufacture, and its rapid expansion in China; the acquisition of Canada’s second largest mining company by the Brazilian mining company, Vale, now the largest iron-ore producer in the world, and its acquisitions of other assets in countries as varied as South Africa and Australia.

Net Geners vs. Old-School Management

The Net Geners (a.k.a. Generation Y) are fighting a war with old-school management and the balance of power is slowly changing. Some say that the Net Geners are highly motivated, multi-tasking, versatile workers and highly collaborative humans. For the old-school managers, they are simply lazy narcissists exposing their intimate life in Facebook, wasting their time and company resources in instant messaging, twitters, and other banalities. We are describing the war being fought between those born in the 1980s and 90s, vs. the others, more seasoned managers and employees, pre-1980s.

But this war is far from being contained between the walls of offices and cubicles. It transcends the corporate terrain, and is becoming part of the informal corporate academia as well as the consultancy swarms, always looking for a new field of flowers.

The Net Geners have grown with networked computers and are being challenged to take their new role at company headquarters, with the same enthusiasm they have killed virtual enemies on the PC screen. They have been encouraged to challenge received wisdom, to find their own solutions to problems and to treat work as a route to personal fulfillment rather than merely a way of putting food on the table. Not all of this makes them easy to manage. Bosses complain that after a childhood of being pampered and praised, Net Geners demand far more frequent feedback and an exact set of requirements for the project under development.

For the older managers, the current recession gives them a relief. Once again, the management fads that always spring up in years of plenty are transitioning to the more “brutal” command-and-control methods. Having grown up in good times, Net Geners have been under the illusion that the world owed them a living. But hopping between jobs to find one that meets your inner spiritual needs is not so easy: there are no jobs to hop to.

Net Geners will certainly have to change some of their expectations and take the world as it is, not as they would like it to be. The old-school managers should also be prepared to make concessions. The economy will eventually recover and the Net Geners will be the only resources available to tap.


Note from Business Week: Author Don Tapscott coined the term Net Generation a decade ago in his best-selling Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation (1998). Even then he was inspired by his kids: In 1993, seven-year-old Alex was already e-mailing Santa Claus. At that time the Web was "a place for outsiders, geeks, radicals or visionaries," Tapscott writes. Net Geners—those born between 1977 and 1997—had little say, as baby boomers and Gen Xers ruled. But fast-forward to now, and Net Geners—81.1 million strong, or 27% of the U.S. population—are starting to put a stamp on education, work, family life, and politics.

A Gift Guide for a Clueless Guide

Want to score major points this holiday? Get your wife the gift she really wants.
Here's how:

Like it or not, men win the prize when it comes clueless, insensitive gifts. Who hasn't heard a holiday horror story along the lines of "He got me a gym membership because I'm always asking if I look fat!"? No one wants to be that guy, but we'll admit it — picking out the perfect present isn't easy. Allow us to guide you along the path to gift enlightenment.