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Latino workforce growing, report says

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Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2005 10:00 pm

Latino workers showed mixed results in 2004: more jobs, but lower wages.

According to the 2004 Latino Labor Report issued by the Pew Hispanic Center, Latinos filled 40 percent of the 2.5 million jobs created in the U.S. in 2004. These gains helped drive unemployment among Latinos down by two percentage points, to lower than 6 percent.

The rate for non-Latinos was lower, about 4 percent. But this is the closest these two percentages have been in five years, according to the report.

However, more jobs haven't always meant more money. Real wages of Latino workers fell 2.2 percent in 2003 and another 2.8 percent in 2004, according to the report. Non-Latinos also suffered earnings losses, but they were lower at 1.8 percent in 2003 and 1 percent in 2004.

These lower wages reflect the jobs that many Latino workers have filled, according to Rakesh Kochhar, senior research fellow at the Pew Center and the author of the report. Eighty-one percent of foreign-born Latinos and 76 percent of native born Latinos who got new jobs went into occupations requiring little or no formal education.

By contrast, 64 percent of white workers went into jobs requiring a college degree. Asian-American workers did even better: they were the only group to show an increase in real wages.

Kochhar said it was important to keep in mind that the majority of the new jobs earned by Latinos were filled by those born in other countries. These workers tend to have lower levels of education and be more desperate for work than native-born Latinos, Kochhar said.

Foreign-born Latinos were heavily concentrated in positions as gardeners, garment workers, agricultural laborers and lower-skilled construction jobs -- ones that are less attractive to native-born Latinos, Kochhar said.

These numbers are sure to further fuel the ongoing debate around immigration and wages. According to John Keeley, a spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, which wants stricter controls on immigration, this wealth of low-wage jobs shows the government has sold out the native-born working class.

In most other industrialized countries, Keeley said, these jobs are done mainly by natives, who receive benefits and higher wages. He said this tendency is particularly clear in the agricultural economy, because the government does nothing to employers who hire undocumented workers.

"The policy amounts to a subsidy to agribusiness that has gone on for over 20 years," Keeley said.

Kochhar said the role of agriculture is overblown.

"Agricultural is significant in California," Kochhar said. "But on a national basis, a very small percentage of Latino labor is in agriculture."

He added that the situation of Latinos in the U.S. is changing, especially as the children of firstand second-generation Latino immigrants grow up in this country and generally achieve higher levels of education and income than their parents.

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