For nearly two decades, the Hispanic and Latino population has grown in New York and so too has their, and Hispanic immigrants’, impact on our state’s economy.

Although the vast majority of this population is centered in New York City and the surrounding counties of Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester, the influence of Hispanic New Yorkers is increasing across the state.

Between 1990 and 2014, the Hispanic and Latino population in New York grew by 66 percent, reaching nearly 3.7 million. Nearly half of Hispanic New Yorkers, including Latinos, were born here and more than three-quarters are United States citizens by birth or naturalization.

Coinciding with this increase, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in New York has more than doubled between 1997 and 2012, from 104,000 to nearly 268,000. These Hispanic-owned businesses account for 13 percent of all businesses in New York and grew at a rate faster than for all businesses from 2007 to 2012.

Immigrants currently account for 43 percent of New York City’s workforce and nearly one-third of the city’s economic output. These individuals have a strong presence in a wide range of occupations. Immigrants make up the majority of workers in the construction, personal services, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing industries.

Clearly, immigrants, including Hispanic immigrants, are playing an increasingly important role in the New York economy. However, there are too many that are still on the outside of educational and economic opportunity looking in.

If we want to build a New York state that truly offers opportunity to all, we need to address key community issues – lifting children and families up in order to open the door to better lives.

It’s no secret that increased educational attainment provides workers with the opportunity to obtain higher-skilled and better-paying jobs. Earning a college degree remains the best way to overcome many of the socio-economic issues plaguing our immigrant populations.

While the share of Hispanics and Latinos with high school diplomas is approaching the statewide average, the share of those aged 25 to 35 with a bachelor’s degree or higher is hovering around 19 percent – less than half of the rate for the rest of the population.

The financial impact of this discrepancy is stark.

The median weekly earnings for those with bachelor degrees in 2014 was about $1,100, compared to less than $700 for those with a high school diploma and under $500 for those who didn’t graduate high school. 

That means the average college graduate makes about $22,000 more every year than the average high school graduate. That’s about one million dollars in additional income over a lifetime.

It is apparent that we need to open more doors to opportunity – beginning with providing educational opportunity to every Hispanic child, from kindergarten to college, including the children of New York’s undocumented immigrants.

New York was one of the first states in the nation to offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented students. We have always been a destination for ambitious and hardworking people in search of opportunity.

California, New Mexico, Minnesota, Texas and Washington are already offering financial assistance to undocumented students. We can help New York remain a destination of opportunity by expanding our Tuition Assistance Program and extending assistance to undocumented students by passing the New York state DREAM Act.

A highly skilled and educated workforce is vital for our state to continue to compete and succeed in the global economy. For New York and America to prosper, we need Hispanic immigrants and Puerto Ricans as full partners in the economy, playing key roles in finance, in education, in medicine and in technology.

Making college more affordable for everyone makes economic sense. To build a stronger New York that includes everyone, we must continue to push an inclusive agenda that keeps all of our communities moving forward. In the end, we all benefit from a more skilled workforce and a more diverse New York.

Thomas DiNapoli is the New York state comptroller.