However, as the U.S. Hispanic population has increased and the nation’s economy has waned, interest in what the professor of economics at The University of Texas-Pan American has to say has grown well beyond the Edinburg campus classroom.
Mora is also president of the American Society of Hispanic Economists (ASHE) and in that role she has raised not only the profile of the eight-year-old organization but that of Hispanic economists nationwide, particularly on the research front.
“There are not that many Hispanics in the economics profession and a lot of the policy decisions being made that affect Hispanics are being made by people who do not understand the Hispanic community,” said Mora about the need for ASHE.
ASHE also engages more Hispanics to participate in the economics profession.
“Hispanics represent over 15 percent of the U.S. population but in terms of the full-time economics faculty in universities across the country there are only about three percent,” Mora said.
Under Mora’s leadership since 2006, ASHE’s membership has grown from about 80 to more than 300. She also successfully lobbied to secure official recognition of ASHE by the American Economic Association (AEA), the premier association of economists in the United States. This recognition guarantees ASHE members an outlet for their research as presenters at AEA-sponsored conferences.
Today, Mora fields calls from local, state and national media, including CNN and Hispanic Business magazine, wanting predictions on labor market outcomes for Hispanics and she also shares her knowledge and policy recommendations with national organizations and leaders.
For example, last fall Mora was able to lend her and ASHE’s expertise to the nation’s top executive on labor issues – U.S. Secretary of the Department of Labor Hilda Solis – at a meeting in Washington, D.C., co-hosted by the labor department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy and the Employment and Training Administration.
“All of the people who attended my presentation, including Secretary Solis, seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say about ASHE, the research/policy recommendations of our members and about current Hispanic employment conditions,” Mora said. “I feel this is just the beginning of an active relationship between ASHE and the Department of Labor, and, hopefully, between UTPA and the labor department as well.”
During that meeting, Mora discussed information gathered for ASHE’s then most current Hispanic Economic Outlook report, which the organization compiles quarterly and is published on their Web site www.asheweb.net.
Third quarter 2009 labor conditions, Mora said, indicated continued high unemployment rates for Hispanics compared to the rate for the entire nation, although unemployment rates for both categories were, at that time, at the highest in more than 26 years. Mora noted that the Hispanic employment situation further deteriorated in the fourth quarter of 2009. The report also examines other factors, such as declining labor force participation rates and the ratio of part-time to full-time workers, both indicating the greater severity of the recession’s impact on Hispanics than on the total U.S. labor force.
“I also briefly discussed how the only sectors that have experienced growth in jobs during the recession are the education and health service sectors. This does not bode well for Hispanics (and African-Americans) given these jobs disproportionately require higher education levels. As groups, both Hispanics and African-Americans have lower education levels on the average,” she said.
Among the report’s contributors is Dr. Alberto Davila, who holds the V.F. and Gertrude M. Neuhaus Chair for Entrepreneurship at UTPA and is Mora’s husband and frequent research collaborator.
A recent collaboration is Mora and Davila’s first co-authored/co-edited book titled “Labor Market Issues along the U.S.-Mexico Border,” published by University of Arizona Press in December 2009. The book examines migration, trade, gender, education, earnings and employment to shed new light on the differing labor market conditions that affect both sides of the border.
Dr. Mark Hugo López, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C., and ASHE’s second vice president, not only praised Mora’s leadership at ASHE but her productive research career.
“She is well known for her work on economic issues on the border and especially her research that explores nationally the wage gap between Hispanics and non-Hispanics and why it exists with a real focus specifically on the importance of being proficient in English,” he said. “She has not just documented how big the gaps are and what the benefits are of speaking English but also looked at the policies that might influence English language proficiency, such as bilingual education.”
Mora, who came to UTPA in 2002, is a New Mexico native. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of New Mexico and her Ph.D. in economics from Texas A&M University.
Mora said she was a shy child who, despite a family that strongly believed in education, disliked school and, at times, wanted to drop out. Now she is a vocal crusader about students’ and families’ awareness of the importance of staying in school.
“The jobs of the future are expected to require high levels of education. People may not know to what extent having a college degree is becoming increasingly important. You get additional earnings from a higher level of education and those returns have been increasing over time,” she said. She also hopes more students recognize that economics is really a broad discipline and it applies to everyday life.
“People forget sometimes that even though economics is one of the business disciplines it is also a social science,” she said. “If you learn basic economics, you can make better decisions not just in terms of finding a job but also in things like voting. You will know the economic issues and understand the impact those issues have on your life.”
Alma Hales, a business administration Ph.D. student concentrating in finance who plans on becoming a professor, has worked with Mora in her research and served as Mora’s graduate assistant for most of her graduate career. She said those experiences have positively shaped her academic endeavors.
“As a student, I look up to Dr. Mora for her knowledge, experience and genuine care for student success. When we work together, she is the guide but she requests and respects feedback from me which keeps me actively engaged in all of our projects,” she said.
Hales said she also admires Mora’s diligence and commitment to issues concerning Hispanic communities.
“Hispanic communities play a critical role in our economy, yet there are still many unanswered questions regarding these communities. Dr. Mora’s work focuses on these issues which include earnings, language and self-employment patterns, among others. As Hispanic economists, I feel it is our duty to understand the functioning of our communities and to share that knowledge and understanding of others. Dr. Mora works arduously to achieve that goal,” Hales said.
College of Business Administration Dean Dr. Teofilo Ozuna calls Mora not only a great teacher who challenges and mentors her students in academic pursuits, but also a great leader.
“Her works as a Hispanic leader in economics and economics organizations have advanced her discipline and brought significant recognition to UTPA and the business college. We’re very lucky to have Dr. Mora on our faculty,” he said.
Her ASHE colleague López predicts a limitless, longtime career in economics for Mora.
“I see her in 10 to 15 years doing policy-related work, being at a place like the Department of Labor as an economist affecting policy. That’s where I see her ultimately going,” he said.