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Leon Kaye headshot

Hispanic Workers: Still Overlooked and Undervalued

By Leon Kaye
Hispanic Workers

Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to reflect and remember the contributions this widely diverse group of people has made here in the U.S. But it’s also fair to note that this country has largely fallen short in valuing Hispanic workers, a reality that became even more glaring during the pandemic.

Hispanic workers suffered overwhelming job losses during the COVID-19 crisis. In the case of Hispanic women, their unemployment rate in the U.S. at one point soared to just over 20 percent. 

Currently, the unemployment rate for both Hispanic men and women is low, retreating close to pre-pandemic levels. But that prior spike in unemployment reflects the fact that Hispanics have long been working disproportionately within the service industry. And many of these workers are still looking over their shoulders at the threats of economic insecurity while finding themselves too often working in low-wage jobs. Bottom line: If people who were let go during the pandemic are simply returning to the same jobs, that’s hardly progress — and they still lack opportunity to build the skills and wealth needed to stay afloat in this 21st-century economy.

The recent massive legislation packages passed in Washington, D.C. — including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act — all include provisions that could open the doors to more economic opportunities while taking on America’s stubborn ethic and racial wealth gaps, Rose Khattar and Jessica Vela of the nonprofit think tank Center for American Progress observed in a recent op-ed for MarketWatch. These bills include opportunities for STEM education, tax credits for employers who hire and train apprentices, and funds for minority-supporting universities and other institutions.

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To be clear, such an economic transformation could occur if these programs were deployed with a focus on equity. But such an approach would mean taking on an economic system that has long relegated certain groups of people to a limited set of jobs. In the case of Hispanic workers, most jobs available to them have overall been relatively low-paying, high-risk, and rife with violations that have left too many people vulnerable to problems such as wage theft and safety violations.

“Equitable implementation of all these new measures will mean that Hispanic and Latino people have access to these good jobs and that they are not merely returned to their pre-pandemic status quo,” Khattar and Vela wrote. “And, while it’s critical to expand opportunities in male-dominated fields to women, this must go hand in hand with improving the quality of work where Hispanic women are overrepresented today, such as investing in care and domestic work.”

In understanding the challenges many Hispanics keep confronting in the U.S. job market, it’s first important to acknowledge that this group is hardly monolithic. Within the wider Hispanic community, long-term economic security and job opportunities have long been marked by factors such as colorism. Further, as the Center for American Progress has pointed out, once one gets past lumping this group together as “Hispanic,” it’s apparent that some ethnic groups are doing relatively well when gleaning through the macroeconomic data. But within other ethnicities, including Mexicans and some Central Americans, many are working within a limited variety of jobs that pay low wages, a problem some analysts describe as “occupational segregation.”

The problem isn’t the ability to find a job or attain employment — across the board, all Hispanic ethnic groups have higher employment-per-population rates in the U.S. than that of white, non-Hispanic people. The challenge for many is finding jobs that are secure and pay a decent wage. 

It’s clear that the recent actions of policymakers have unlocked new opportunities for underserved communities, including Hispanic workers and their families, with the new federal programs that have launched over the past 20 months. One challenge, however, is whether those opportunities will exist once such funds are distributed to state and local governments.

The private sector also has a role in addressing the opportunity and wealth gaps that Hispanic workers often face. Companies can start by responding to the growing pressure that shareholders and investors are putting on companies to diversify not only their workforces, but more importantly, corporate America’s C-suites and boards. And that focus on a more diverse and workforce means going beyond the proclamations and press releases that call for a “celebration” of Hispanic Heritage Month.

One executive who’s been speaking out on this issue is Jose Minaya, CEO of the asset management firm Nuveen, a subsidiary of the financial giant TIAA. In a recent interview with Insider, Minaya said: “Inclusion is a massive business opportunity. Even if you don't believe in research showing the importance of diversity and inclusion — if you don't do it well, you just ain't getting the money at the end of the day."

Image credit: Joel Muniz via Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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