Friday, January 02, 2009

Immigrants feeling economic pain

Check out the full report by Pew Latino Workers in the Ongoing Recession: 2007 to 2008 .


Stephen Wall, Staff Writer Press Enterprise

In a year when jobs have become scarce for everyone, the proportion of working-age Latino immigrants participating in the labor force has fallen, according to a new report.

The slowdown in the growth in the number of Latino immigrants who are employed or actively looking for work is a testament to the depth of the recession, according to the report issued last week by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center.

"Latinos are still an important source of workers to the U.S. economy," wrote Rakesh Kochhar, Pew's associate director for research. "However, this growth is now led more by native-born Hispanics and less by immigrant workers."

Latino immigrants, including many undocumented workers, had found plentiful job opportunities in the construction boom earlier this decade. It was a sector in the economy that grew even during the 2001 recession. But Latino immigrants aren't immune from the current economic disaster spell, which was triggered by the slump in housing markets.

"You've had hundreds of thousands of jobs lost in the construction industry. Immigrants are particularly hard hit because you have so many immigrants working in that industry," said Jose Calderon, a professor of sociology and Chicano Studies at Pitzer College in Claremont.

According to the Pew analysis, the decrease in the percentage of Latino immigrants in the labor force was 1.1 percent, from 72.4 percent in the third quarter of 2007 to 71.3 percent in the third quarter of this year. The drop was about twice as high among Mexican immigrants and among immigrants who arrived in the country since 2000. While slight, the decline is significant because there had been steady annual growth in the Latino immigrant workforce over the past decade, the report states.

Overall, the unemployment rate for Latino immigrants in the third quarter of 2008 was 6.4 percent, compared to 6.1 percent for the total workforce and 9.6 percent for Latinos born in the United States.

But workers who drop out of the labor force are not counted among the unemployed. If Latino immigrants had remained as active in the labor market in 2008 as they were in 2007, their unemployment rate would be much higher today, the report says. "I think the numbers are much larger than the statistics," Calderon said. "That's how deep this recession is."

The Pew report, based on the latest Census Bureau data, says it is not possible to conclude whether Latino immigrants who left the labor force have returned to their home countries.

But it is clear, according to another recent Pew report, that the number of illegal immigrants entering the country has decreased since 2005.

Calderon, who is on the board of directors of the Pomona Day Labor Center, said that many Mexican immigrants are realizing that economic conditions here "are as bad or maybe worse" than back home. "Either they have given up looking for jobs or they are returning back," he said. "At least back home they have a family and a place to stay and a community to support them."

Going back to Mexico has crossed the mind of Federico Galicia, a 56-year-old Colton resident who came to this country in 2002. When he arrived in the United States, Galicia said he quickly found a $9.50 per hour soldering job at a San Bernardino company that manufactured safe deposit boxes.

Nine months ago, he was laid off when the company moved its operations to Tijuana. He now provides for his wife and three children by trimming trees, doing yard work, cleaning garages and performing assorted odd jobs for friends and neighbors. His wife also earns $100 every weekend making tortillas at a Mexican restaurant.

But the couple is having a hard time paying the $650 monthly rent on its 1 1/2 bedroom home. Galicia said his children are divided about whether the family should return to Mexico. His 20-year-old daughter wants to leave, while his two younger kids, ages 18 and 15, want to stay.

Galicia said he has looked for jobs at several factories and construction companies, but to no avail. If he doesn't find work by March, he said he will have to decide whether to move.

"I didn't think this was going to happen," Galicia said in Spanish. "I thought it was going to be easier to get my children ahead in this country."

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