News Column

The New Hispanic Information Economy

November 2003, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Scott Williams

At the recent convention of the American Political Science Association, Professor John A. Garcia of the University of Arizona noticed a surprising number of panel discussions that either focused exclusively on Hispanics or compared them with other ethnic groups. To him, it was yet another indication that interest in the Hispanic community among researchers and academics is on the rise.

"There are more opportunities for funding, and at the same time there's a growing body of academics who have experience [in Hispanic research] or would like to have experience," says Mr. Garcia, who two decades ago conducted pioneering academic investigations on the Hispanic community. "There have been academic researchers who have made their careers over the last 20 to 30 years looking at Hispanics, and now we're finding that more academicians are taking an interest in this population."

Suddenly it seems everyone is interested in Hispanics and how they differ from or resemble other U.S. population segments. Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington, D.C.–based think tank, believes the increasing interest corresponds to Hispanics' growing numbers. "I have no idea how to measure [the research demand], but it's been growing in parallel as the population has been growing in size and significance," he says.

The U.S. Hispanic population grew 58 percent between 1990 and 2000, according to the Census Bureau, climbing from 22.4 million in 1990 to 35.3 million in 2000. That increase caught many political leaders and marketers off guard, according to Mr. Suro. "Certainly in the realm of public policy, Hispanics have gone from being sort of an asterisk to being a full paragraph and now sometimes even a full chapter in consideration of all kinds of different public policy issues," he says.

The convergence of a demand for information and academics eager to produce it has created a viable market for Hispanic-specific data. While government and academic researchers provide credibility and objectivity to the emerging body of publicly available Hispanic research (see box, "Public Numbers on the Market"), private research firms also find a growing demand on the commercial side.

Ricardo Lopez, CEO of New Jersey–based Hispanic Research Inc., says his business is booming thanks to growing interest among businesses, public policy groups, and political parties. In the past five years, he has seen his business increase fivefold. "A lot of companies finally woke up to the fact that the Latino population is something that they cannot ignore," he says. "In order to reach the general market, they have to include the Latino segment, because it's a large part of the market."

Sergio Bendixen, CEO of the Florida-based polling firm Bendixen & Associates, has seen a similar increase in business, an upswing that he also attributes to the 2000 Census. In the 1990s, his business averaged between $500,000 and $1 million a year in gross revenues; now the range is $2 million to $3 million. "[The Census] seemed to create a tremendous interest not only in the basic numbers, but also in understanding the Hispanic point of view," he says. "People have begun to understand that they need more information about this huge group of people in the United States who are somewhat different from the average American."

Despite an increasing demand for Hispanic research, it isn't clear whether this demand has translated into more funding for researchers. Mr. Suro, a former reporter for The Washington Post, says as far as he knows, no one keeps track of how much is spent on Hispanic information-gathering.

Gilbert Cardenas, director of the Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame University, adds that he's not sure if federal government support for Hispanic research has increased. He notes that historically, foundations have been more responsive to the needs of Hispanics and other minorities than has the national government. He says Presidents Nixon and Carter funded Hispanic research, while President Reagan cut it.

"I don't think that any administration has seen adequate funding commensurate to the need and the population," he states. Still, Mr. Cardenas is optimistic about the long-term prospect for funding Hispanic research.

"I think the Bush administration understands this and I think subsequent administrations, whether Republican or Democratic, will understand this," he says.

Academic centers and think tanks have tapped into funding from foundations, corporations, and state agencies. For example, the Pew Hispanic Center was established with a three-year grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, and specific research projects have been co-produced with the Multilateral Investment Fund and the Brookings Institution. Its biggest project, the National Survey of Latinos, is sponsored by the Kaiser Foundation. Likewise, the California-based Tomás Rivera Policy Institute has landed grants or other support from nearly 90 sponsors, mostly corporations and foundations.

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