Why Latinos Have Been First to Make It Back to Pre-Recession Employment
Although Latinos make up only a seventh of the population, they have "racked up half the employment gains posted since the economy began adding jobs in early 2010", the Los Angeles Times reported this morning. In 2011, the trend accelerated. Of the 2.3 million jobs added in 2011 according to the Household Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.4 million, or 60 percent, were won by Latinos.
This remarkable statistic is a keyhole into America's two-speed recovery. One true story of the recession is that employment gains have been biased toward the highly educated. More than half of the jobs added in 2011 went to Americans with a college education. Another true story of the recession is that most of the other jobs have been low-paid and went to the less-educated. Educational attainment among Hispanics remains very low. Just 10% of foreign-born and 13.5% of native Latinos have finished college, placing the group's completion rate at about a third of the national average.
Immigration: Latino unemployment is 10.5%. That's not much of a recovery. So how come it's also true that Latinos quickly recovered their pre-recession employment number?
The answer is that the unemployment rate is a ratio, and the denominator grew, since lots of Hispanics have moved into the U.S. According the BLS household survey, since January 2008, the Hispanic labor force has grown by 2.4 million. But the number of employed Latinos has grown by 1.2 million. So, although lots of Latinos have found work, a nearly equal number have showed up and not found work. It's important to point out that immigration is slowing: the U.S. population grew at its lowest rate in 70 years in 2011. But since immigrants are more mobile than native families, they're perhaps more likely to settle somewhere with greater job opportunities, unlike families who are stuck in Sun Belt areas with high unemployment and falling housing prices.
Finally, it's not just where they're working. It's where they're not working. As a group, Hispanics have low employment in local, state, and federal governments, which lost about 300,000 jobs in 2011, the vast majority of net job losses last year. The upshot is that Hispanics are growing as a population faster than other groups; more likely to work in states with growing jobs, such as Texas; more likely to seek out low-wage positions in health care and hospitality that are fast-growing industries; and less likely to be sitting in the way of the austerity bulldozer that took down total government in 2011.
*These numbers add up to 1.6 million, because they reflect data in the payroll survey, which is normally used to calculate jobs added, as opposed to the household survey, which is normally used to calculate the unemployment rate, although I've also mentioned it in the first paragraph above.