Honoring Hispanic Americans: Population and Business Trends

This post was written by Lynn Weinstein a Business Reference Librarian in the Science, Technology, and Business Division.

When exploring information about Hispanic Americans in terms of population and business trends, it must first be recognized that this is a large and diverse demographic category. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requires federal agencies to use a minimum of two ethnicities in collecting and reporting data: Hispanic or Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino, with “Hispanic or Latino” defined as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race. According to Census data, those of Hispanic origin make up 18.7% of the U.S. population as of April 1, 2020. Data specific to Hispanic Americans was not tracked until the 1980 Census, and you could not indicate two or more races before the 2000 Census.

Exterior photo of a building

Headquarters building of the Latino Chamber of Commerce in Pueblo, Colorado. May 24, 2015. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Annual Business Survey provides data on minority-owned businesses and indicates that in 2017, 5.6% (322,076) of all U.S. businesses were Hispanic-owned, with the top sectors for these firms being in construction with 15.6% (50,187), followed by accommodation and food services with 13.0% (41,817), and professional, scientific and technical services with 10.6% (34,292). Prominent Latino entrepreneurs are also in the high technology, banking, real estate, marketing, mercantile, newspaper, media, sports, entertainment, as well as the health and beauty industries. Hispanic firms in the three largest industry sectors employed approximately 1.2 million workers, had receipts totaling approximately $130.9 billion, and an annual payroll of approximately $35.8 billion.

While Latinos are capturing more of the Small Business Administration (SBA) lending market in terms of both volume and count, Latino-owned small businesses were underrepresented across all metrics, as they experience greater barriers to accessing capital compared to the general population and other ethnic groups, due to a legacy of poverty, inequity, and bias, and experienced disparities in terms of credit outcomes. Deficits in educational attainment, professional training, and access to entrepreneurial networks contribute to these circumstances. Recently, there have been two Mexican American entrepreneurs in leadership positions in the SBA. Maria Contreras-Sweet, the co-founder of ProAmerica Bank, which serves businesses within the Latino community, headed the SBA during the Obama Administration. The current administrator of the Small Business Administration is Isabella Casillas Guzman, a fourth generation Texan whose family arrived in the United States at the time of the Mexican Revolution.

Store front

Olvera Street in the oldest part of downtown Los Angeles, California. 2012. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs.

In order to address these inequities in representation, the SBA and many local governments are developing business incubators aimed at assisting Hispanic and other historically excluded entrepreneurs. Support goes to personal trainers, restaurateurs, accountants, painters, web designers, mechanics, and other business people that need assistance in getting launched or who need assistance in certain aspects of growing their businesses. These centers offer one-on-one counseling, mentorship programs, networking opportunities, and support with launching websites and developing marketing programs.

Photograph of Travel Agency storefront in Patterson New Jersey with sign for sending parcels to Peru

Sign for Seclen’s [Travel] Agency, 245 21st Avenue. Sept. 15, 1994. Photo: David Alan Taylor and Martha Cooper. Working in Paterson Project Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.

For anyone wanting to research topics related to Hispanic/Latino business and industry, the Library of Congress has some useful resources:

  • Consult U.S. Census Connections: A Resource Guide for general reference publications and census finding aids to identify sources for U.S. decennial and economic census information. This guide identifies useful resources for locating census publications at the Library of Congress and online.
  • Explore the Library of Congress Web Archiving collections, where the Small Business Administration website is archived. The Library routinely captures websites recommended by librarians, and portions of the Web Archive are available to you at home, although some content needs to be viewed onsite at the Library of Congress.
  • Interested in starting a small business? Check out our Small Business Hub, a virtual space with strategies for researching the steps of starting, growing, and closing a small business.
  • Need assistance with a question? Use our Ask-A-Librarian service. We do respond to questions from the public.
  • Interested in visiting the Library of Congress to conduct research or visit? Consult our Pandemic Information page for up-to-date information.
Photograph of shops and apartments in Spanish Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan

Small shops line the street below upstairs apartments in the Spanish Harlem neighborhood of the borough of Manhattan… August 29, 2018. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

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An earlier version of this blog listed an incorrect percentage for Hispanic-owned construction businesses.

Honoring Hispanic Americans: Celebrating Mexican American Contributions

Explore Mexican American contributions to the U.S. economy using collections from the Occupational Folklife Project (OFP), the related individual worker reflections celebrated in the new America Works podcast, and the StoryCorps project, which has its archive at the Library of Congress.