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Challenge to Hispanics: Save up

By Myriam Marquez

March 28, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

When the Orlando banker was a little girl, her father would give her a peso from time to time to reward her for schoolwork well done.

"He would always say, 'Mercedita, spend 90 cents but save 10,'" Mercedes Figueroa McCall recalled recently.

It's advice that the Cuban-American took to heart when she arrived in this country as a penniless refugee. From the moment she began working as a bank clerk in the 1960s, McCall had her employer deduct money from her paycheck to buy U.S. Savings Bonds. Years later, the bonds helped her pay for part of her son's college education.

Today McCall, the region executive for Puerto Rico-based Banco Popular in Central Florida, heads the Orlando area's U.S. bonds campaign. It is no small task.

Overall, American workers don't save as much as they should to retire without worry. But for Hispanics, that's even tougher to do.

Banco Popular president Richard L. Carrion knows that all too well.

As the national chairman of the U.S. Savings Bonds campaign, Carrion understands the challenges Hispanics face in trying to set aside money to save when so many people barely have money to house and feed their families.

His bank, which now has $28 billion in assets and 96 branches from California to Florida, started as a small savings and loan in Puerto Rico 107 years ago. Its mission was to help humble laborers save to improve their lot in life.

"All of these accomplishments have had us realize that we can do more, that we must do more," Carrion told 200 people gathered in Orlando last week to kick off the savings campaign.

Carrion pointed out that more than 30 million Americans now live under the poverty level. "Many of them are immigrants. They are waiting for their opportunity to make their dreams come true," he said.

As the first Hispanic selected to head the national campaign, Carrion has the opportunity to connect to Americans whose savings rate is the lowest among all racial or ethnic groups.

About 56 percent of all American households lag in saving for retirement, according to a study last year of Federal Reserve financial data. About 48 percent of non-Hispanic white households were saving enough for retirement, but only 28.4 percent of African-American households and 24.5 percent of Hispanic households were saving adequately.

There are many reasons why Hispanics lag behind.

An obvious one: Many Latinos working in the United States, particularly Mexican farmworkers, send a large chunk of their income back to "the old country," where their families still live.

Others tend to distrust banks in general. Civil wars. Corruption scandals. All contributed to that distrust.

Savings bonds offer a way for people to save without fear of losing their hard-earned money on a Wall Street roller coaster. And some of the bonds available today pay, at more than 6 percent interest, attractive rates.

But whatever method people choose to save -- whether its bonds, mutual funds or a savings account at a bank -- what's important now is for working folks to start saving even when it means cutting out some other need.

So much of America's promise begins with sacrifice.

Reach Myriam Marquez at

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