American University Law Review
The United States is undergoing a demographic transformation. Nearly one in five Americans already is Latinx, and the United States Census Bureau projects that by 2060, nearly one in three will be. Latinx will substantially outnumber every other historically underrepresented racial and ethnic minority group, and non-Hispanic whites no longer will be a majority. Those changes have unsettled traditional approaches to full inclusion.
Civil rights activists have suffered numerous setbacks, and the burgeoning Latinx population is searching for other paths to belonging. Some leaders have turned to growing Latinx market power to demand recognition and equal opportunity. These efforts rely heavily on aggregate contributions that Latinx make to the labor force, consumption of goods and services, and entrepreneurship. Advocates use these statistics to show that Latinx are vital to continued prosperity for all Americans.
Aggregate statistics do not grapple with the internal heterogeneity of the Latinx population, particularly along lines of class and immigration status. Nor do the numbers address the ways in which the law itself constrains market participation. Earlier movements to promote economic empowerment are instructive. Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), though not a Latinx movement, mobilized working-class Black Americans to advance race pride and an enterprising spirit. That initiative foundered in the face of two implacable forces: opposition from middle-class Black leaders committed to a civil rights agenda and a capitalist system that made little room for entrepreneurship by poor people. Cesar Chavez’s labor organizing for the United Farm Workers (UFW) is the most famous mobilization to advance Latinx economic interests, and his movement continues to influence activists to this day. The UFW’s rise and fall reveal how disputes over the treatment of the undocumented and legal battles over union tactics divided the membership and drained precious resources.
These lessons of history reveal the limits of both market aggregation and traditional civil rights strategies in addressing contemporary Latinx labor force participation, political consumerism, and entrepreneurship. Aggregation conceals distinct challenges that Latinx face depending on whether they are working-class or middle-class, undocumented or legally present. For working- class and undocumented Latinx, the most essential reforms depart from a civil rights framework, requiring structural investments in human capital and comprehensive immigration reform. For middle-class and legally present Latinx, civil rights can be a useful tool in fighting discrimination on the job and in lending markets. However, new approaches will be needed to address exclusionary social networks, which create barriers to advancement at work and limit access to capital. To leverage growing numbers, Latinx therefore must forge innovative strategies that recognize the intricate interdependency of the civic square and the marketplace.
American University (Washington College of Law)
Rachel F. Moran,
The Pocketbook Next Time: From Civil Rights to Market Power in the Latinx Community,
Am. U. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.tamu.edu/facscholar/1900