Every year, the 100 Most Influential Hispanics become even more influential. Since 1983, when Hispanic Business first published the Influentials directory, the numbers of titles such as "CEO," "elected official," and even "U.S. Senator," as well as academic leaders, renowned athletes, entertainers, and important board and committee chairpersons, have grown as Hispanics have successfully realized expanded opportunities in the U.S. economy and society.
In addition to their leadership roles in their professions, companies, or political jurisdictions, the 100 Influentials also lead opinions in the expanding U.S. Hispanic demographic space. They frame questions and provide points of view, thus directing the discussion of economic and public policy issues.
A confidential survey of Influentials demonstrates some clear leanings in Hispanic opinion leaders' thinking on issues of the day. Results of the survey appear in the accompanying tables.
Education as Overriding Priority
Education perennially ranks as the top issue among Influentials. This year, when asked "What should be the top priority of a national Hispanic agenda?" an overwhelming majority (83.3 percent of respondents) chose "Access to Education" from the nine options listed. Education enjoys the greatest consensus among Influentials as a policy concern.
Most of the Influentials themselves are highly educated: 90.5 percent have earned a college degree and nearly three quarters (73.8 percent) have earned a graduate degree. This partly explains why 83.3 percent report an annual household income of $100,000 or more, and why the importance of education crops up repeatedly in the survey results.
Gloria G. Rodriguez, CEO of AVANCE, a nonprofit organization based in San Antonio that focuses on advancing education for children in the first three years of life, says she chose education as a profession because she understood the importance of improving the quality of the Hispanic education experience. "I entered the field because I found out that the whole pipeline needs to begin in early childhood," she says.
On other questions, survey respondents selected educators (33.3 percent) as the group that "can do the best job of further empowering the U.S. Hispanic community," and a slightly higher percentage (35.7 percent) selected Pell Grants – need-based federal aid to students that does not have to be repaid – as the federal initiative "most critical to the future of the Hispanic community." But a majority (52.4 percent) find fault with the current administration's education policies, despite the "No Child Left Behind" program. (See www.hispanicbusiness.com/go/influentials 2005 for the detailed results of the Influentials' survey responses on this and other key policy issues, broken out by party affiliation.)
Antonio Villaraigosa, recently elected mayor of Los Angeles, believes the main problem of "No Child Left Behind" is its $27 billion shortfall in funding. "One of the most important responsibilities of the federal government should be helping to revitalize schools and committing itself to making America a world leader in education and move us from our place at the bottom in terms of world industrialized nations," he says.
Economic and Business Growth
After education, the top priorities for a Hispanic agenda should be "Economic Development" at 73.8 percent and "Access to Capital" at 38.1 percent, according to the Influentials survey. Exactly 50 percent of the Influentials disapprove of current economic policies, while 33.3 percent approve of them. But an overwhelming majority of Influentials (88.1 percent) report strong growth in Hispanic-owned companies in their own community. Nearly two thirds (64.3 percent) have seen growth in the number of Hispanic-owned companies, 38.1 percent have seen an increase in number of jobs, and 33.3 percent have observed increased business affluence.
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