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Analysis of U.S. employment shift reveals future potential need for Latino immigrant labor

LatinaLista — It’s not news that the economic downturn has hurt people of color the most. Yet, the hope that the economy will improve enough to where it was before everything crashed and people who worked in the construction and manufacturing businesses will get their old jobs back appears to be more of a dream than reality.


A new analysis performed by McClatchy Newspapers on employment data gathered from the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics found that most of the low-skilled jobs that were a product of the housing boom are lost and just aren’t being replaced with new jobs as the economy recovers.

The analysis talks about not just home construction jobs but all the jobs that supplied home builders — “companies that produce, install or repair kitchen cabinets, hardwood floors, carpets, heating and cooling equipment, appliances and other products. There also are jobs in hardware stores and home improvement centers, the truckers who deliver stock to Home Depot and Lowe’s, and the longshoremen who handle containers of Asian-made tools in West Coast ports.”

Further bad news is that there has developed a shift in the employment sector:

The analysis suggests, in fact, that the recovery is slow in part because many unemployed workers don’t have the skills to fill the jobs now available.

That’s not good news for those Latino workers who worked construction — native born or immigrant.

It means that these former construction workers need to be retrained, a.k.a. go back to school — and that may be a lot harder than being out of work.

According to a Pew Hispanic report, only one-in-ten Hispanic dropouts have their GED. Yet from the McClatchy analysis, it’s clear that the bulk of future job openings with livable wages will require more than a GED or even a high school diploma.

That’s scary and hopeful news for the nation right now. Scary because Latinos, which will be the majority ethnicity in the nation, have the highest number of high school dropouts.

According to the report, there’s emerged a profile of who gets a GED and who doesn’t:

Some Hispanic adults are more likely than others to have a GED. More Hispanic males (4%) than females (3%) have a GED. Hispanic adults who speak only English at home or speak English “very well” are more likely to have a GED (5%) than Hispanics with limited English speaking skills (3%).


The language differences are not because the GED is an English language-based battery of tests. The GED tests are also given in Spanish. Latino adults of Mexican, Puerto Rican and Dominican origin are more likely to have GEDs than Latinos of other origins.

Hispanics residing in institutions (correctional facilities and nursing homes) are much more likely than those living in other residences to have a GED.

Yet, the bigger question is will the new types of jobs available be incentive enough among Latino dropouts to go beyond the high school diploma?

It should and only then will the slow erosion of the underclass that already exists begin. However, for Latino immigrants who rely on nothing more than their stamina and brawn to withstand the elements or harsh or stinky conditions of low-skilled work, their fate seems almost certainly sealed to be stuck performing the work that really will be the kind of work no American wants to do.

Immigrant restrictionists will probably celebrate the revelation of this news thinking that these immigrants, who are undocumented, will return to their countries. But the fact is these immigrants are already doing these kinds of jobs, among others, and they haven’t thrown in the towel yet.

And do we really want them to?

The reality is that people who struggle studying and going through school to get their Bachelor’s degrees will not want to waste their time working in meat processing plants, pouring asphalt, changing beds in hotels, weeding strangers’ gardens or taking care of other people’s kids when they could put to use the degrees they worked so hard for — and earn the salaries that come with it.

So who will do the labor intensive work? And at what price?

The dropouts?

Unfortunately, if they are native-born, their work ethics leave a lot to be desired. It doesn’t take long for someone accustomed to comfort to give up and find an easier route to what they want.

The unemployed?

Again, depending on how labor intensive the work is and how high the salary, chances are people won’t be around for long, if they even bother to apply.

So that leaves immigrants who want to do these kinds of jobs — but not as cheap labor.

Every person needs to be paid a livable wage that will afford them housing, food, healthcare, education, transportation and recreation. This shift in the nation’s employment picture opens the door even wider to accommodate those immigrants who look to this country for these kinds of jobs.

The sooner we realize that there is a need for their labor the sooner we can fix the immigration system to set up a reasonable guest worker program that protects these workers from employers that would exploit them, pays them fairly and gives them the option of an education that they can take back with them to their home countries so they can help rebuild their communities.

The underlying fallacy in the immigration debate is that we don’t need the labor undocumented immigrants perform — the extent to how wrong that assumption is being made increasingly clear.

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  • Cindi Jane
    August 11, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    The need may be for labor, but there people other than Latinos in the world who need work. Other ethnic groups should be given equal opportunity, especially those who would apply to legal channels.

  • alvin cortez
    August 11, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    “Unfortunately, if they are native-born, their work ethics leave a lot to be desired.”
    Marisa, this is the most sweeping bigoted statement I’ve heard from you.

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