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Latinos' Wages See Growth Spurt

The ethnic group's pay in California has risen faster than for others, narrowing an earnings gap, a study finds.

September 30, 2004|Bill Sing | Times Staff Writer

Latino workers' wages in California have risen more than twice as fast as non-Latinos' pay since the mid-1990s, narrowing the earnings gap between them.

But Latinos on average still make far less than non-Latinos of similar occupations and educational levels in the state, and are still disproportionately represented among California's working poor.

Those are among the key findings of a report, to be formally released today, by the California Budget Project, a Sacramento-based nonprofit that analyzes public policies affecting low- and middle-income Californians.

The report, based on Census Bureau surveys, showed that the inflation-adjusted median hourly wage of Latino workers in California rose by 19.9% from 1995 to 2003. That contrast with an 8.5% gain for the non-Latino workers.

That faster wage growth brought the median hourly wage for Latinos in 2003 to $11.50, or 61.3% of the $18.75 earned by non-Latinos. Latinos earned 55.5% of others' wages in 1995, when the pay gap was the widest in recent years. But Latinos had earned 73.7% in 1979.

The stronger Latino pay gains on a percentage basis can be partly attributed to Latinos starting from a lower base, said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project.

But the study also suggests that Latinos have benefited from disproportionately stronger job growth in recent years in such industries as hospitality and healthcare, which tend to employ many Latinos, she said.

Although many of those jobs often pay comparatively lower wages, Ross said their wage scales had benefited from boosts in the state's minimum wage and increased unionization of such occupations as janitors and hotel workers.

Latinos' wages also have risen thanks to their higher education levels, the report said. That increase has gained momentum in recent years. But Latinos still earned less than non-Latinos at all levels of educational attainment, the report said. Latinos with a four-year college degree or higher earned 85 cents for every dollar earned by comparable non-Latinos.

Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., said it was encouraging to see that Latino wages had risen despite job losses in the state's manufacturing industries, which tend to pay higher wages and employ many Latinos.

Kyser said Latino workers in the Southland had benefited from booming international trade, which had increased employment in transportation, logistics and ports. "These are good jobs" that pay decent wages, he said.

Median wages grew 11.2% for white employees and 13.5% for "Asian and other" workers from 1995 to 2003, the report said. Median earnings of black workers fell 6.6% during the period.

Latino-headed families accounted for 3 out of every 5 working-poor households in the state, and Latinos also were less likely to have access to employer-provided healthcare and pensions, the report said.

Making up nearly one-third of California workers in 2003, Latinos will become the majority of the state's workforce in coming years, Ross said.

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