Economic Success Ladder a Harder Climb for U.S. Latinos

Roz Brown | Public News Service
A shortage of good jobs makes the ladder to a middle-class lifestyle a steep climb for Latino workers, according to a study by the Center for American Progress. Photo Credit: GerdAltmann / Pixabay

Hispanic and Latino workers have high employment rates in the U.S. but continue to experience a shortage of jobs paying enough to lift them into the middle class, according to a new study.

Jessica Vela, research assistant in tax and budget policy at the Center for American Progress, said America relies on millions of front line workers, but the typically low-wage jobs are often held by people of color, and the darker their skin, the more discrimination they face.

She added many Latino workers, particularly those of Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran descent, work in jobs where labor violations are common, including hospitality or caregiving.

“This is the root of systemic racism within the U.S.,” Vela asserted. “This can impact individuals trying to find a job, trying to keep a job.”

Census data show the percentage of Latino adults with at least an associate’s degree is 20 points lower than for white adults. Earlier this year, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board began efforts to examine whether a postsecondary degree is producing credentials of value leading to higher earnings for all, and not just some students.

Latinos are 17% of the overall workforce, but represent 24% of the tipped worker population. According to the report, tipped workers often make subminimum wages, are at the mercy of the economy, and were laid off by the millions during the pandemic.

Vela added many of them were Hispanic women, who lost jobs at alarming rates starting in April 2020.

“Hispanic women 20 and older experienced one of the highest unemployment rates by race, gender, ethnicity; a little over 20%,” Vela reported. “Losing jobs, it can be really difficult with labor markets to find other jobs, leaving them vulnerable to not being able to provide.”

The U.S. Hispanic and Latino population is projected to comprise the majority of net new workers this decade. At the same time, the U.S. wage gap is related to education levels, work experience and immigration status.

Advocates want a higher federal minimum wage and more grants to help people afford to go to college or a trade school.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.