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The New Hispanic Information Economy

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At Notre Dame, Mr. Cardenas says, the Institute for Latino Studies has raised $10 million in external funds in four years, ranking it first among divisions in the university's College of Arts and Letters and second among all divisions on campus. "That has to be a first for any institution of higher education such as ours, where a Latino-focused center ranked so high," he says.

A bigger funding surge may follow. Commercial Hispanic marketing began to grow four or five years ago, and the public policy sector is just now beginning to catch up, Mr. Suro says. "The public sector is following and lagging by four or five years, but the level of interest is now growing very quickly in both parties and at all levels of government."

Good research on Hispanics requires special skills and knowledge. Writing a bilingual survey, for example, requires greater language and cultural understanding than a survey in English. Because of the challenges, "the extent and quality of data collected on Hispanics hasn't caught up with the demand," Mr. Suro observes.

Marta Tienda, professor of sociology and director of the Office of Population Research at Princeton University, says much of the new research on Hispanics suffers from an additive or column approach. "You're just adding another column [of data] rather than asking fundamental questions: How are [Hispanics] different, why are they different, does it matter, and who cares?" Currently, she is working on a multi-year study on how admissions policies affect minority college enrollment in Texas. The project is funded by the Ford Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation.

Harry Pachon, director of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, says one of the challenges in effectively reaching U.S. Hispanics, whether it's to collect information or to market goods or services, is appreciating the community's diversity. "We've been plagued by inadequate data on this population, and we've gone through a couple of phases," he says. The first phase involved the belief that Hispanics and African-Americans were basically the same, so both could be appealed to in the same way. The second phase was the belief that Hispanics could only be reached through Spanish-language media.

Mr. Lopez has seen the increased demand for Hispanic research lure general-market advertising agencies and marketing firms to produce questionable information. "A lot of them have no clue how to do it, but they find they have to offer [these services]," he says.

For the future, demographic trends ensure a strong long-term market for Hispanic data. Mr. Suro points out that the Hispanic community is expanding geographically to new areas of the country. Also, it's a dynamic population, with a mix of immigrants and first-generation U.S. citizens who are the first in their family to attend college or obtain white-collar jobs. "It is a phenomenon in which the future isn't obvious – there's an element of social and cultural change," he says. "When you get a lot of firsts like that, you get a lot of curiosity."

Economically, the fact that the Hispanic population is growing at a time when the nation's Anglo and African-American populations are aging has significant implications, Mr. Suro continues. "This is the labor force that's going to replace the baby boomers and the consumer market that's replacing the baby boomers in a sort of demographic two-step. That has very substantial implications for business and the economy and certainly for public policy."

Mr. Cardenas hopes the future will bring greater sophistication with regard to Hispanic-oriented research and the development of extensive databases and publicly available information. For instance, Texas A&M University, which conducts the Texas Poll, has begun breaking out information on Hispanic respondents to produce a separate pool of opinion information. He also expects more refined analysis of the various subgroups within the Hispanic population. "I think you are going to find that there will be opportunity for even more disaggregation of the population, so one can do comparative work," Mr. Cardenas says.

Just as demographics will drive the demand side of the Hispanic information economy, they may spur the supply side as well. More Hispanics with post-graduate degrees mean more dissertations and qualified researchers on campus. Says Mr. Garcia: "The size and breadth of that academic community has increased just as much as the population has gained and increased" – or about 50 percent since 1990.

Sources of publicly available data about the U.S. Hispanic population.

Census Bureau ( The official source of population data for the U.S. government.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation ( This foundation, dedicated to encouraging entrepreneurship, has conducted research on the emerging Hispanic entrepreneurial sector.

HispanTelligence ( Research arm of Hispanic Business Inc. that focuses on business, education and financial data.

Inter-University Program for Latino Research at Norte Dame ( A consortium of 18 university-based research centers focused on Hispanic issues.

The Pew Hispanic Center ( A public policy think tank funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at USC ( Academic institute that conducts public policy research with funding from corporate and academic research grants.

William C. Velasquez Institute ( Voter-focused organization dedicated to increasing Hispanic political involvement.


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