Leticia Miranda, National Council of La Raza

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Leticia Miranda is the associate director of the Economic and Employment Policy Project at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.  The Economic and Employment Policy Project provides NCLR’s perspective on employment, energy, retirement, and poverty policy at the federal level.

What (or who) inspired you to do the work you are doing?

I was re-inspired to return to working on Latino advocacy and policy issues by the inaccurate, misleading and negative characterizations about the Latino community in the media.

Part of my work requires explaining how the Latino community fares on economic issues in the United States.  I try my best to emphasize the strengths and positive characteristics that Americans of Hispanic descent bring to our country, and engage in a constant battle to ensure these positive images are reflected in media stories.

I have also been inspired to create policy communications that connect strongly with various groups within the Latino community.  For example, what will work with young Latinos born and raised in the United States may not work with their parents or grandparents who may have migrated here from other countries.

Who would play you in a movie and why?

The actress Gillian Anderson might be a good choice to play me in any movie – laugh out loud!  Gillian Anderson played Special Agent Dana Scully on the American television series The X-Files for many years. Anderson once stated that she auditioned for this role because the script called for “a strong, independent, intelligent woman as a lead character.”

What is the biggest policy challenge facing the United States and how would you fix it?

The biggest policy challenge for the foreseeable future is how our country will address the large federal budget deficits and still make the strategic investments needed to ensure global economic leadership and a nation where the middle-class is sharing in the prosperity.

For example, how much are Americans willing to tax themselves to pay for the government services they appear to want? As our nation ages and more Baby Boomers enter retirement age, how will we as a society support programs and services that serve seniors?

How much money are we willing to invest in activities that will ensure our economic competitiveness in future decades such as education at every level (early childhood, K-12, colleges, vocational education, etc.), and in the health of our people among other important endeavors?

What do you do when you are not saving the world?

I am a weekend warrior who never misses weekly dance and Vinyasa flow yoga classes, boot camps as well as short distance running.  One goal for 2012 is mastering a yoga headstand.

What was the last book you read? What is the most important thing you learned from it?

As a native Californian I read the seminal book on California public policy history entitled Paradise Lost: California’s History, America’s Future by Peter Schrag. I learned that California’s experiment in direct democracy was high-jacked starting in the mid-1970s by short-sighted and self-interested groups who radically reduced government resources that supported important state services like K-12 public education, libraries, health care for the poor, higher education, transportation and water infrastructure among other key areas.

The chapter outlining the decimation of county budgets that support public libraries, county mental health services and healthcare for the poor moved me to tears. I know how much the library system, for example, was important to my development as a young girl growing up in California. 

California has been living off of and benefiting from investments made by earlier generations who planned for population growth and economic leadership by creating the world’s leading public university system the University of California, a K-12 system that was once a leader among the all states in per pupil investments, the water resources systems that support California’s important agricultural industry and cities, and the highways among other things.  

The author Peter Schrag, a leading columnist who spent his career with the Sacramento Bee, makes the connection that these short-sighted policies in California are being adopted at the federal level, with dire consequences to come.

What advice do you have for young people who are interested in your field?

Studying economics provides a foundation to understand how our economy works, the dominant theories about the role of government intervention to support economic growth, and the economic history of our country and the world. 

Ensuring solid knowledge of statistics enables an analyst to use statistics to make their case in the debates on public policies. I remember during my early days as an analyst in Washington, DC, walking to the U.S. Department of Labor and asking their analysts to save data onto a floppy disk for me to spare me from re-typing in data. All of us now have a wealth of data online to use in the debates on public policy.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Being a news junkie.

How can people find out more about your work or get involved?

People can go to my NCLR webpage.  My main work in 2011 was around educating the Latino community about Social Security policy and hearing feedback from Latino communities across the country.

We have created various public education pieces including a short brochure entitled Social Security: What the Latino Community Should Know, an online game called The Social Security VideoQuiz that features diverse young people exploring the topic in their own words, as well as various policy-oriented fact sheets and principles.  All of these and more are located at our webpage.