The nearly 2 million Hispanic residents of Chicago make a vital contribution to the city's economy, according to a study released Wednesday by the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Latinos in the Windy City "account for almost $1.2 billion more in tax revenues than they cost in the delivery of public services," Notre Dame professor Juan Carlos Guzman, the lead author of The State of Latino Chicago 2010: The New Equation, said.

The figure shows "that the widespread perception that Latinos represent a net drain on the system is unfounded," he said.

Extrapolating from the 2010 Census, the Notre Dame researchers say Hispanics could make up as much as a quarter of Chicago's population by 2015, meaning that the city's prosperity will increasingly depend on immigrants.

Hispanics are already 20 percent of the city's workforce.

"What's good for Chicago Latinos is also good for Chicago," Guzman said.

The area's Latino community had a cumulative purchasing power of $12.3 billion in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Hispanics own more than 56,000 businesses, or 6.5 percent of all enterprises in greater Chicago, and the proportion of Latinos living in the suburbs surged from 46 percent in 2000 to 57 percent in 2009.

"The influence of Latinos on the economic, civic, and cultural life of metropolitan Chicago is already enormous and will become much larger still when the current generation of children begins to make its mark in the next few years," Gilberto Cardenas, director of Notre Dame's Institute of Latino Studies, says in the introduction to the report.

He notes, however, that Hispanics "are lagging behind in many dimensions," notably education.

"Future success in the workplace and in other arenas largely depends on dramatically improving educational outcomes. Many Latino children are among those with the greatest needs, but they tend to be enrolled in schools with the fewest resources," the report points out.

"Illinois's funding disparity between school districts serving affluent versus low-income students is the largest in the nation. Eliminating these disparities will greatly influence the shared destiny of the entire region," the authors say.

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