Hispanic Women Bring Home the Bacon as Families Tighten Their Belts

04/04/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Yesterday, Catherine Singley, our economic policy analyst at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), joined Ana Roca Castro (Latinos in Social Media), Marisa Trevino (Latina Lista), and Veronica Arreola (Viva la Feminista!) for a radio interview on Latinos and the workforce titled "How Are Latino Families Changing as Latinas Bring Home the Bacon?" The panel covered issues ranging from unemployment to child care to family dynamics.

As the nation's largest and fastest-growing community, Latinos are an unshakeable voting bloc, a strong consumer group, and an indispensable workforce. Yet the heavy presence of Latinos in such vital industries as construction, service occupations, agriculture, and production has made them especially vulnerable to job loss during this recession. Federal economic recovery efforts based on the philosophy that "a rising tide lifts all boats" have still not reached some of the communities hit hardest by unemployment and foreclosure. As breadwinners and caretakers, many Hispanic women -- Latinas -- have been dealt a harsh blow by the bad economy.

America's Latina workforce is eight million strong and richly diverse, but the vast majority must face huge challenges in the labor market: low wages (a median of $501 per week, $50 less than black women and $150 less than white women) and severely limited access to employer-based benefits including health care, retirement plans, and paid leave.

What's more, the economic crisis is turning up the pressure on Latinas to build their entire families' economic security on this weak foundation. A new poll shows that 56% of working Latinas are responsible for more than half of their household's income. Even before the recession began, Census data showed that nearly one-quarter (24.1%) of Hispanic children relied on their mothers alone to sustain the family.

While it is yet to be seen how the changing gender composition of the workforce is playing out among Latino familias, one thing is certain: without a plan to create jobs immediately and tackle inequalities in the labor market, Hispanic families' inroads to the middle class will become more treacherous and Latinas will pay the price.

What can we do to stabilize families and neighborhoods and restart the economy? NCLR offers three ways to take action:

Read NCLR's recommendations for job creation.
Learn more about the challenges that Latino workers face and policies to level the playing field for all workers.
Take action to tell your elected officials that any new jobs legislation must reach the hardest-hit communities.