A- A+

Invisible in Iowa: The Missing Story of Latinos' Contributions to Our Economic Success

Iowa Latinx Project

July 1, 2022

Even though the number of Latinos in Greater Des Moines (DSM) has grown 13-fold in the last 50 years, there is very little in our public discourse that accurately represents who we are and what we contribute to this region. Instead, the dialogue about the Latinx community is often limited to reductive opinions about immigration or simply neglected in what is primarily a black-and-white story of the state’s diversity journey.

Latinos, like other marginalized communities, rarely see ourselves represented at all (let alone accurately) in the narrative of Iowa’s economic success. The work of the Iowa Latinx Project, an initiative led by a cross-section of Latino leaders, is seeking to advance understanding of the issues surrounding Iowa’s largest ethnic group through data and stories with the goal of improving the conditions of our community.

This has significant implications for our region’s economic prosperity because Latinos in DSM are a vital and rapidly growing part of the workforce that powers our businesses and drives commerce. Nuestro Iowa, a report recently released by the Iowa Latinx Project, shows that the approximately 22,000 Latino workers in the region collectively earn roughly $1 billion in annual income. The report also points out that there are more than 1,500 Latino businesses in DSM generating nearly $160 million in annual revenue. These and other Nuestro Iowa data make the case that Latinos contribute significantly to our economy.

Supporting a Growing Community

And these contributions are only going to increase as the Latinx population is expected to grow 128% by 2050, at that point making up more than 13% of the region’s population. By contrast, the rest of the DSM population is projected to grow only by 17% in the same time period.

Despite our growth and our increasing influence, meager attention and resources are directed to understanding, studying and supporting our vibrant and growing talent pool, customer base and entrepreneurial community. There are marked disparities in household income among Latinos in central Iowa — 33% lower than the white population— and homeownership — 24% lower — to name just two economic data points. Closing these two gaps by 2050 would mean an additional $4.5 billion dollars earned annually by Latinos and 7,000+ more Latinx homeowners in DSM.

What will it take to advance Latinx economic inclusion and, as a result, boost our state’s economy? It starts with generating awareness and appreciation for the economic contributions and economic condition of the Latinx community. Next is to acknowledge and celebrate employers and supporters that have found ways to advocate for Latinos in mutually beneficial ways. We believe this will translate into increased investments in opportunities for job training, paths to rewarding careers and leadership opportunities and support — technical assistance, capital and networks — for small business ownership.

Reflecting on the question of how to generate inclusion for Latinos is not a nice to do. Rather it is a necessity for all of us in the private sector to stop and consider this opportunity (and its challenges) in order to make the kind of progress we want to see happen. We welcome you to join the Iowa Latinx Project in putting one foot in front of the other to reach our shared goals of creating better lives for all of us in DSM.

Learn more at iowalatinxproject.org.

Greater Des Moines (DSM) welcomes diverse talent to the region. As one of the fastest growing business communities, inclusion and attracting diverse talent in the workplace is a key strategy of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Learn more here.

Alejandro Hernandez

Alejandro Hernandez leads Drake University's College of Business and Public Administration which has as its North Star the belief that a business education can be a force for good, contributing to the global economy and to society. He arrived at Drake with 30+ years of experience in corporate America.