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Algernon Austin Headshot

Latinos And The Good Jobs Crisis

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If Latinos are to fully recover from the ravages of the Great Recession, they will need not simply jobs, but jobs that lead to increased earnings over time and that also have good benefits. In short, they will need what we call "good jobs." Recent evidence from the Economic Policy Institute's (my organization) research on the state and local public sectors portends that getting good jobs will continue to be a major challenge for Hispanic workers.

From 2007 (the year the recession started) to 2011, Latinos workers' wages in the state and local public sectors declined more than the wages of whites and African Americans. The median wage of Hispanic employees declined 5.2 percent, compared with a decline of 1.9 percent for African Americans, and 0.7 percent for whites.

Since the 1970s, the rich have been getting richer as the rest of America has been suffering from a good jobs crisis. Wages have declined or stagnated and benefits have been cut. Just about everyone on Main Street has been hurt by the decline in the share of good jobs, but Hispanic men have been hit the hardest. From 1979 to 2008, the share of Hispanic men in good jobs declined 15.5 percent. For white and black men respectively, the declines were 12.8 percent and 9.3 percent.

Without a good job it is very hard to keep one's family out of poverty. A third of Hispanic children are living in poverty, nearly three times the rate for white children. Since the start of the recession, Latino child poverty has increased the most of the major racial and ethnic groups. To lower this high rate of poverty, we need to increase the wages of Hispanic workers. Unfortunately, Hispanics lead in the share of workers earning wages that cannot lift a family out of poverty.

In terms of benefits, Latinos are also in a dire situation. Hispanics have the lowest share of workers with employer-sponsored health insurance. Given that Latinos are underrepresented in good jobs that provide a retirement plan and overrepresented in jobs that do not provide enough for savings, it is not surprising that Latinos are very weak on measures of retirement security. The fact that Latinos have lost a significant amount of wealth over the recession does not improve the situation.

What can be done to produce more good jobs in the American economy and more good jobs for Latinos specifically? I discuss several policies in "Getting Good Jobs to America's People of Color," but here I will only address one: unions.

Recently, Knowledge@Wharton, the online business journal of the Wharton School of Business, published "State of the Unions: What It Means for Workers -- and Everyone Else," (May 9, 2012). This article provided information about how a strong union movement helps provide good jobs.

Good jobs require good wages. Knowledge@Wharton cited recent research that has shown that the decline in union membership since the 1970s has played a significant role the growth in income inequality. The journal quoted the sociologist Jake Rosenfeld, who observed, "It is hard to think of a way to tackle income inequality without a vibrant labor movement."

Unions also help create good jobs by fighting for worker's rights and for worker benefits. Wharton Professor Janice Bellace noted, "if you think of major pieces of legislation that have been very important to working persons, you will often see that the legislation was pushed by unions. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) . . . was pushed by the unions and almost no one else. And the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1977 . . . was brought by the International Union of Electrical Radio and Machine Workers." She added that unions are truly the "national voice for the average working person."

Without a strong union movement, and without increasing Latino unionization, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse the decline in good jobs in America. While all racial and ethnic groups are hurting from this decline, Latinos have been hurt the most.