Minority-owned businesses in Los Angeles County overwhelmingly employ minority workers and tend to hire within their own ethnic group, a Los Angeles Times Poll has found--a trend with key implications for the region's economic growth and unemployment rates, particularly in low-income areas.
Nearly three-quarters of Latinos surveyed described their work force as mostly Latino, and 41% of black business owners reported a mostly black work force. Of Asian firms, nearly a third employed mostly Asian workers, and almost as many had a mostly Latino work force.
In contrast, no more than 3% of any minority group reported a mostly white work force, compared with a third of white-owned businesses.
At a time when immigrants have been viewed as a drain on the economy, the statistics underscore a notable self-sufficiency among minority small businesses and the role they play in grooming the region's minority employee base.
"The overwhelming number of workers in minority firms are drawn from those ethnic groups," said Thomas Boston, a professor of economics at Georgia Tech University who has studied the phenomenon. "It's those firms that are really generating jobs, particularly when you look at African Americans and Hispanics hard-pressed for employment."
The propensity for ethnic employers to hire their own is influenced by a variety of social and demographic forces. They include reliance on existing workers to bring in new recruits, more activist tendencies of minority employers to hire and train workers who share their background and the composition of the work force, made up of a high number of immigrant Latinos who are concentrated in low-skill industries.
But The Times survey also revealed that ethnic hiring trends do not benefit all equally: Black businesses were the only ones likely to employ blacks in any measurable number. Fully half of those surveyed reported a mostly or partly black work force--with 41% describing their work force as mostly black--compared with only 1% of Latino ventures, 3% of Asian-owned firms and 4% of white-owned enterprises.
For blacks--whose 8.7% state unemployment rate in August surpassed that of all other groups--the good news is that significant job opportunities can be found with black-owned firms, even those that have fled low-income neighborhoods for the suburbs.
Yet the data also underscore the virtual exclusion of blacks from the small-business work force here. Small enterprises employ more than 70% of the county's 4 million payroll workers, according to state figures, but only 5% of the county's small businesses were black-owned, according to the most recent Census Bureau figures.
Still, experts in minority entrepreneurship say the opportunities should not be minimized.
"Even though today the employment capacity is relatively small, black-owned firms . . . are growing twice as fast as all small businesses," Boston said. "If that trend continues for the next 10 years . . . then you begin to see something significant."
Furthermore, minority-owned businesses are more likely to recruit in low-income neighborhoods and participate in programs to assist youth and welfare recipients, according to recent research by the Washington-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
"They're playing an important role in giving people entry-level jobs because they're willing to take risks, take people who may not have that much work experience and engage in some training," said Cecilia Conrad, an associate professor of economics at Pomona College who is helping with the study.
Though black workers are underrepresented at small nonblack ventures, the survey found Latinos were employed in significant numbers by all groups. Latinos were the only minority group employed in large numbers by whites: 19% reported a mostly Latino work force and 9% a partly Latino work force.
Phillip Shin, owner of York Engineering in Highland Park, employs 13 people at his plastic injection molding company. Most of them are Latinos. Shin, a 45-year-old Korean American, says he never sought to hire a particular ethnic group, but his employees reflect the predominantly Latino area where the firm is based.
Demographics play a role. Latinos comprise 41% of the county's work force--surpassing whites. In contrast, blacks make up only 8% of the county's work force and Asians comprise 12%, according to 1998 census data.
Disparities in educational level have helped leave Latinos at the lower end of the work force and propelled blacks into public sector and professional jobs: Forty-five percent of Latinos in the California work force had no high school diploma in 1998, compared with 7% of blacks, state figures show. In contrast, fully 24% of blacks in the work force had a bachelor's or higher degree, compared with only 8% of Latinos.