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SMITH AND FLORES: Hispanics lack opportunities in faltering economy

The Pew Hispanic Center recently found that the top issues for Hispanic voters are jobs, education, health care, the federal budget deficit and immigration. Yet when it comes to those issues, President Obama's policies have hurt our nation's growing Hispanic population.

Jobs: One million fewer Americans are working today than when Mr. Obama took office. Hispanics have been particularly hard hit by this employment crisis. The unemployment rate for Hispanics is above 10 percent, about 2 points higher than the national unemployment rate. The unemployment rate for young Hispanics aged 16 to 19 is even worse - 30 percent.

Mr. Obama's job-killing policies also have harmed Hispanic small-business owners. According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, there are 2.3 million Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States. The number increased nearly 45 percent from 2002 to 2007.

To help small businesses, we need to reduce the overall tax rate. House Republicans recently introduced and passed legislation to cut the small-business tax rate by 20 percent.

But Mr. Obama proposes to raise the top two income-tax rates, which will hit small-business owners. As National Federation of Independent Business CEO Dan Danner notes, at least 75 percent of small-business owners file as individuals. The president's proposed tax increases wrongfully penalize those job creators.

Education: Mr. Obama's education policies hurt our country's Hispanic students. There are 10 million Hispanic students in our nation's public schools. Unfortunately, Hispanic students have a very high dropout rate of 18 percent. That is more than double the national dropout rate of 8 percent, more than triple the 5 percent dropout rate for white students and double the 9 percent rate for black students.

To help America's K-12 students succeed, Republicans want to streamline spending, promote flexibility and innovation, improve teacher quality and empower parents. House Republicans have introduced legislation to revamp both No Child Left Behind and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Those efforts will return responsibility for student achievement to state and local leaders and provide them with the means to meet students' needs, such as courses to help non-English speakers learn English.

Health care: Mr. Obama's government takeover of our health care system harms Hispanics. The percentage of uninsured Hispanics - 31 percent - is almost twice the national rate of 17 percent.

Despite promises made by Mr. Obama that his health care law would cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family's premium, Obamacare puts the price of health coverage out of reach of many who are uninsured, forcing them to go on Medicaid or receive a subsidy to purchase a government-approved health care plan. For example, the Congressional Budget Office reports that Obamacare increases premiums by up to 30 percent. This disadvantages Hispanics, whose median income is $38,000, a quarter below the national median.

Obamacare has assaulted Hispanic-owned small businesses with its hefty price tag. The president promised that under his health care plan, millions of small-business owners would be eligible for tax credits that would help them cover the cost of insurance for their employees. Unfortunately, those tax credits have proved to be temporary or unavailable for most small businesses.

Deficit: Throughout his presidency, Mr. Obama has shown little fiscal restraint as spender in chief. Under his watch, our national deficit has doubled. That puts a drag on the economy and burdens future generations. The median age for Hispanics is 27, about a decade younger than the median age for the population as a whole. So young Hispanics will especially bear the brunt of paying off Mr. Obama's credit card bill.

Immigration: Hispanics have suffered because of Mr. Obama's lax enforcement of our immigration laws. Under this administration, worksite enforcement has dropped 70 percent, forcing citizens and legal workers to compete with illegal immigrants for scarce jobs. History shows that when jobs held by illegal workers open up, American workers benefit - especially minorities.

We could open up millions of jobs for Hispanics and other legal workers by encouraging all U.S. employers to use a Web-based program called E-Verify. E-Verify quickly identifies illegal workers and protects jobs for legal workers by checking the Social Security numbers of new hires. The program is free, quick and easy to use.

Under this administration's policies, Hispanics are worse off than they were 3 1/2 years ago. On the issues they care about, the administration has failed them. The Republican Party offers a better way forward.

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Bill Flores, Texas Republican, serves on the House Budget, Natural Resources and Veterans' Affairs committees.

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