U.S. senators Wednesday addressed the importance of Latinos and the economy, recognizing the lack of opportunities the Latino community currently face in the business sector.

The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) hosted Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. and Sen. Chuck Schumer, to name a few, to discuss the role the Latino community has on the economy and where improvements are needed.

Menendez recognized Latinos' impact on the U.S. economy, stating Latino-owned firms have doubled in the last decade -- more than twice the national business growth rate average -- while more than 3.2 million Latino-owned businesses have supported millions of employees, providing $465 billion to the U.S. economy every year and having a purchasing power of $1.2 trillion.

That latter figure is projected to go as high as $1.5 trillion in 2016.

"One of my top goals has been to promote and expand diversity in all levels but sadly the numbers aren't changing, from the classroom to the boardroom and in every economic sector, we're still seeing Latinos, women and other minorities underrepresented," said Menendez. "Corporate diversity is within that context of diversity my most significant priority."

Menendez said people have to challenge every corporation to improve their diversity efforts since he sees opportunities for companies' bottom line productivity and profits. He noted the results of a private and voluntary survey comprising of corporations accessing their diversity levels. While the full report will be released soon, he revealed women and minorities are "grossly" underrepresented at every level.

"We found that while the vast majority of participating companies reported having a formal written strategy and implementation plan, only half -- about 53 percent -- included numeric targets for executive level diversity. Only 15 percent of companies with a chief diversity officer say that their diversity officer reports to the CEO," said Menendez, noting a chief diversity officer collaborating with a company's CEO will make a dramatic difference.

Menendez disclosed that white males are still in the majority in corporate board of directors positions with 63 percent, women represented approximately 23 percent while Latinos -- although accountable for 17.1 percent of the U.S. population --  represents 5 percent.

The senior senator from New Jersey said, "Half of the participating companies of the Fortune 500 did not have a single Latino on the board [of directors]."

"The reality is, when you look at our economy, minorities are still, in so many ways, not getting the opportunities, the level playing field that they should get," said Booker, later adding there is no diversity among pension managing firms. "And don't tell me those qualified Latino business aren't out there...because America cannot succeed by not letting all its players on the field. We cannot be successful unless everyone is contributing, everyone is taking part."

Booker said barriers exists within the younger population, especially when an individual's race is taken into consideration. He acknowledged Latinos are facing "extreme challenges" in today's society, from education costs to treatment by the criminal justice system.

"I see burgeoning Latino communities. For a while, we were simply Puerto Rican and then Dominican and now we are just a mosaic of Latin American and Central America...what links these communities together is a sense of hard work, sense of fairness and a sense of justice," said Schumer.

The senior senator from New York commented on immigration, stating if the "burdens" of the people living in the shadows were lifted, there would be greater gains for the U.S. He continued, "I am confident that some point in the not-too-distant future, we will get the comprehensive immigration reform that would be so good, not just for the Latino community...but for all of the United States of America."

"The bottom line is that the fair representation of women and minorities in corporate boardrooms...is the right thing to do, it's the right to do for business but it's certainly not happening in the way that it should," said Menendez.


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