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Latinos getting richer, spending more in LA County, study says

A customer buys produce at the Euclid Market in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles in December. The market was reopened in 2013 as part of a project to promote healthy eating among the city's Hispanic population.
Courtesy of UCLA Fielding School of Public Health
FILE: A customer buys produce at the Euclid Market in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles in December.

Latinos' steady rise as a portion of Los Angeles County's population has been accompanied by a surge in their economic clout, a trend highlighted in a new study that quantifies increases in the group's educational attainment, income and consumer spending.

Latinos now account for 48 percent of the county's population, and more than a quarter of Latino households bring in between $100,000 and $200,000 a year, up from just 15.9 percent in 2000. Latinos have also come to dominate consumer spending in several categories, including food, clothing for kids and entertainment.

These are some of the key takeaways in a study released Thursday by Beacon Economics and the L.A. Latino Chamber of Commerce.

The report is a message of sorts — and possibly a warning — that Latino consumers cannot be ignored, according to Gilbert Vasquez, chairman of the Latino chamber.

"What we're trying to say is that it's important for you to look at the Latino market if you want to be successful," Gilbert told KPCC. "I think it's important that you hire Latinos to service those customers. And I think it's important that maybe some of them speak Spanish so that they're able to be more successful when they're marketing and trying to sell to Latino customers."

Vasquez said the study was initiated before the presidential primary season got underway but that he hoped the findings would help to refocus public attention away from some of the negative campaign rhetoric surrounding Latino immigrants.

"You look at Donald Trump. I mean all he talks about is illegal immigration. He talks about crime. He talks about raping and murdering people. Everything is negative. Now he wants to build a wall. He doesn't talk about the contributions of Latino entrepreneurs and Latino consumers make to the economy," Vasquez said.

The study, unveiled at a gathering of leaders from the chamber and local businesses late Thursday morning, analyzed demographic and consumer spending data from 2000 to 2014.

It showed that while the rest of the population declined by a little more than 1 percent since 2000, the number of Latinos grew by 15.5 percent.

During that time, Latinos as a group have gained in educational and socioeconomic status.

For instance, the number of Latinos whose highest level of educational attainment was a bachelor's degree has grown by 134.6 percent since 2000.

At the same time, the share of the population aged 55 to 64 has more than doubled, which the study concluded means this demographic is likely earning better income than it ever has before.

Much of that newfound wealth is being funneled back into the local economy.

Latinos spent $10.9 billion on food in 2014, more than black, Asian and other non-white households combined (at $8.5 billion). Their spending on eggs, poultry, beef and pork alone amounted to $1.3 billion, almost as much as white households and far more than other non-white households, according to the study.

Latinos also spent more on clothing for kids younger than 15 than than any other racial or ethnic group in 2014.

And growth in Latino spending on entertainment (123 percent) far outpaced the average for all households in the county (73 percent).

Ron Ballesteros, a longtime Latino business owner based in Lincoln Heights, said he has witnessed this growth in economic power firsthand.

The founder and president of LA Baking Co., who is originally from Nicaragua, said he has been doing business in the L.A. area for almost 40 years. In that time he's seen a lot of progress, "from people becoming mayors or people being sons of my friends that are now doctors, lawyers, you name it, you know. So it's been a ride in all the 40 years."

Along with that success has come more expensive tastes, Ballesteros said.

"Well, the community is growing. Our community is getting better located. You know, we're getting stronger economically. We like better things, expensive things, better houses," said Ballesteros, who hosted the chamber event at his store.

Vasquez said the chamber has seen a lot of successful entrepreneurs like Ballesteros who want to continue their growth. He said the chamber's goal is to double Latino revenues over the next five years.

Vasquez, a certified public accountant who was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended local schools and colleges, said he has developed a good feel for the Latino business community in his more than 40 years doing business here.

He said that, moving forward, he hoped to see more Latinos sitting on corporate boards, just as he does.

"We all have the same goals and dreams," Vasquez said. "We all go to school — not all, but some of us go to school. Some of us decide to go into business, and some of us want to be real successful."

You can read the full report below:

This story has been updated.