Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Why older Latinos matter in election

By Jeff Cruz, Special to CNN
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu May 31, 2012
Latino senior citizens should not be ignored in this election, says Jeff Cruz of Latinos for a Secure Retirement.
Latino senior citizens should not be ignored in this election, says Jeff Cruz of Latinos for a Secure Retirement.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jeff Cruz: Older Latinos can deliver more than just their own vote
  • Cruz: In Latino culture, elderly play influential role in families and communities
  • He says issues such as Social Security and Medicare affect how Latino senior citizens vote
  • Cruz: Mitt Romney's position on Rep. Paul Ryan's budget should raise red flags for Latinos

Editor's note: Jeff Cruz is the executive director of Latinos for a Secure Retirement, a coalition that seeks to educate and mobilize the Latino community about retirement issues. He was the deputy director for senior outreach in the Chicago headquarters of the 2008 Obama presidential campaign.

(CNN) -- There is no doubt that Latinos are a growing political force in America. One out of every six Americans is Latino. Latinos are turning places such as North Carolina into new battleground states while remaining critical in Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.

The importance of the Latino vote is not lost on the presidential candidates. The Obama campaign is making an unprecedented outreach to Latinos, spending an estimated $1 million on Spanish-language advertising to date.

Much of this advertising and outreach has focused on reaching younger Latinos since Latinos are a very young population -- more than a third are under 18.

Jeff Cruz
Jeff Cruz

However, Latino senior citizens should not be ignored in this election.

First, seniors can deliver more than just their own vote. In Latino culture, grandparents play influential roles in families. Successful mobilization efforts will try to engage Latino seniors as leaders of their families and networks.

Traditional senior issues such as Social Security and Medicare are especially important to Latino seniors, who tend to live long and are more reliant on Social Security's modest, but vital, benefits.

Polling shows that Latinos, like the majority of Americans, place a high value on Social Security and oppose benefit cuts. In truth, Social Security is important for Latinos of all ages. It is America's largest children's anti-poverty program. Latinos, who tend to have more children and work in blue-collar jobs, are more likely to survive on benefits as children of deceased or disabled parents. To Latinos, Social Security represents an important promise that if you work hard and play by the rules, you will have a foundation for you and your children if you lose wages because of old age, disability or premature death.

Fight for the Latino vote in 2012
Counting on the Latino vote
Should Romney pick a Latino for VP?

Mitt Romney's endorsement of Rep. Paul Ryan's budget should raise huge red flags for Latino seniors. His proposal would decimate funding for Medicaid, privatize Medicare and raise its eligibility age. Forcing 65- and 66-year-olds into the more expensive private market could potentially drive up costs for both the young and the old. In total, this change could cost Latinos more than $2.4 billion a year.

In contrast to Romney, President Barack Obama seems to understand the value of Social Security and Medicare to Latino families. But the challenge of governing and being open to compromise has led some to question his commitment. If he campaigns and governs as a strong defender of these programs, he will win over Latino seniors and, along with their support, Latinos of all ages. He will have a good chance at a second term.

With leading Latino advocacy organizations having recently launched the Latinos for Democracy campaign, which aims to register and turn out 200,000 new Latino voters, Obama is wise to focus his effort on courting this constituency. Latinos are likely to surpass the 10 million votes cast in the 2008 presidential election.

Despite their growing numbers, Latinos are drastically underrepresented in our political system. For example, although Latinos comprise 16% of the population, they hold 2% of Senate seats and less than 7% of congressional seats. Of top congressional staff identified by the National Journal, less than 1% is Latino.

This lack of political participation so evident in the power corridors of Washington is directly tied to failure of Latinos to mobilize their communities fully at the ballot box. In 2008, less than half of eligible Latino voters cast ballots, compared with two-thirds of white voters.

If Latinos want to strengthen their political clout, they will first have to overcome some obstacles. The continued failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform has left millions in legal limbo and unable to vote. The recession has hit Latinos very hard, with unemployment and the foreclosure crisis causing hardships that complicate voting efforts. On top of that, Republicans are rewriting state laws to make it more difficult for Latinos to vote and for organizations to register voters. These voter-suppression tactics threaten all of our democratic values.

Until these challenges can be overcome, for now Latinos will have to unite and show their clout by going to the polls in November.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeff Cruz.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:50 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT