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Left behind

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North Carolina had the fastest growing Latino population in the U.S. from 1990 to 2000, but the state’s laws and policies affecting them have not kept pace, a new report says.

As a result, Latinos are falling farther behind in several critical areas, including education, workplace safety and wages, access to drivers’ licenses, and interpreters for health-care services, the Common Sense Foundation says in its report.

While the Latino population has grown to represent about 5 percent of the state’s population, and the group’s purchasing power is expected to reach $23 billion in two years, the report says, Latinos have been denied political power.

“Much of the Raleigh political establishment has done little to address issues of relevance to Latinos, and in fact, has often acted against their interests,” the report says. “North Carolina Latinos need and deserve a greater voice in shaping the public policy of the Tar Heel state.”

The foundation recommends several policy changes to address the needs of Latinos, including:

* Increasing funding for teaching English as a second language.

* Lifting recent barriers to receiving driver’s licenses.

* Requiring employers to provide workers’ compensation coverage to all farmworkers.

* Providing funding for interpreters for public health care services.

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