Latinos making big comeback in employment

Making a comeback

After scraping by on handyman jobs for a year, Bert Qintana figured he’d have to leave his wife and teenage son at their home near Taos,
N.M., and find work elsewhere.
Then Qintana got a call last month from Chevron Mining, which runs a
mine 20 miles away. Would he be interested in hauling muck from the
molybdenum mine for $17.05 an hour? He leaped at the offer.
“Thank God,” said Qintana, 45, a Latino who had worked as a general
contractor. “I was able to hang in there and not have to move.” About a
dozen other workers, most of them Latino, also were hired.
Like Qintana, many Latinos with ties to the home-building industry got
slammed by the recession, which wiped out about 2 million construction
But now, as the economic rebound picks up a bit of steam, Latinos are
scoring bigger job gains than most other demographic groups and proving
to be a bright spot in the fledgling recovery.
While they make up only 15 percent of the country’s workforce, Latinos
have racked up half the employment gains posted since the economy began
adding jobs in early 2010, Labor Department data showed.
The improving labor market for Latinos, a key voting bloc, could boost
President Barack Obama’s political fortunes in the fall. They backed
Obama heavily in 2008, but many became disgruntled over
recession-induced job losses, a top concern among Latinos, and his
handling of immigration issues.
Among registered Latino voters, 54 percent approved of the president’s
handling of his job as of late last year, down from 63 percent a year
earlier, according to Pew Hispanic Center surveys. Among Latinos ages
18 to 29, the president’s approval rating took an even steeper fall.
A rosier jobs picture could turn that around.
So far, Latinos are the only demographic group whose employment numbers
have returned to pre-recession levels. The latest Latino jobless rate
of 10.5 percent remains higher than the overall rate of 8.3 percent for
the nation and 7.4 percent for whites, partly reflecting their large
immigrant population (foreign-born U.S. workers tend to have higher
unemployment because of a variety of factors) as well as education and
skill levels.
The construction industry remains weak, but other sectors in which
Latinos have a relatively large share of jobs – hotels, food services,
health care and manufacturing, for example – are seeing more robust job
Mining support services, in which Latinos make up about a fifth of the
workers, are expanding employment significantly. And, because Latinos
account for a relatively small share of workers in the public sector,
they aren’t bearing the brunt of deep cuts in government jobs.
There are other reasons, experts say, why Latinos are faring better
than some other groups. For one thing, they might be more willing to
take low-wage, temporary jobs. And they tend to be more mobile, willing
to move from one county to another to get a job.
Some of the decline in Latino unemployment reflects the fact that many
discouraged workers have stopped looking for jobs. Also, with jobs
generally hard to find, fewer people are moving to the U.S. from Latin
America, and more are returning home. The result is a smaller pool of
workers who can more easily get employment.
As with other temporary workers, some Latinos may find that short-term
jobs are a path to full-time work. But for many others, low-wage,
temporary jobs don’t offer much opportunity for advancement or for the
kind of income needed to support a family.
When the housing industry was booming, workers such as Qintana had a
better shot at building a middle-class life.
Qintana’s contracting firm couldn’t even keep up with the demand for
construction and repairs, enabling him to make enough money to build
his own house in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
At the start of the recession in late 2007, the Hispanic unemployment
rate was 6.3 percent nationwide. As the economy worsened, the jobless
rate for Hispanics topped 13 percent in November 2010. Since then, that
rate has fallen to 10.5 percent.
The declines, said Adriana Kugler, the Labor Department’s chief
economist, were “very striking” and cut across workers’ ages. That
suggested that the trend wasn’t occurring simply because Latinos have a
large percentage of younger workers.
Obama administration officials see significant implications if the
trend continues.
Latinos, the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, not only
are fueling population growth in California, Texas and Florida, but
also in Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio and other states. As their share
increases, Latino voters could play a pivotal role in the fall
“My concern is they are going to stay home” and not vote, said Gustavo
Torres, executive director of Casa de Maryland, a Latino and minority
advocacy group.
“They’re very disappointed with the president because of jobs and
immigration reform,” Torres added, referring to Obama’s unfulfilled
pledge to overhaul the nation’s immigration policy. Many Latinos also
have sharply criticized the administration’s handling of deportations
of undocumented immigrants.
But among registered Latino voters, the top issue is jobs, and the
outlook is brightening. Monthly updates from Casa de Maryland’s five
field offices, where people get training and help finding jobs, show a
20 percent to 30 percent increase in hiring in the last year.
Although most are temporary jobs, Torres said, “they are feeling things
are moving in the right direction.”
Latinos have a bigger climb than others. According to Pew, household
wealth of Latinos, on average, fell more sharply than for whites or
blacks from 2005 to 2009, and the ethnic group’s poverty rate from 2006
to 2010 increased more than for any other group.
Fred Moreno of Bell, who has an associate’s degree in science and
information technology, knows what it’s like to fall below the poverty
Laid off from a copier company in 2008, the 44-year-old Navy veteran
exhausted his $200-a-week jobless benefits by the end of 2010. He then
drained his life savings, had his truck repossessed and ended up
homeless, sleeping sometimes at a shelter by the airport.
“I don’t smoke, I don’t drink or do drugs,” he said. “I’m bilingual. I
have two good legs, two good arms. But it’s not happening.”
Then, a few months ago, after getting help with his resume from Adrian
Lazaro of the California Employment Development Department, Moreno
landed a job as a technician with Xerox Corp. in El Segundo.
He has since moved back into an apartment, married and bought a 1995
Ford van. “I’m slowly and surely saving up again,” he said.