Reporting from Washington —
Unemployment among Hispanics in the U.S. has soared since the recession hit because those workers are disproportionately employed in industries and regions hardest hit by the downturn, according to a congressional report released Wednesday.
Hispanic workers were more likely to be employed in the construction sector, which was pounded during the housing collapse, particularly in states including California, Florida and Nevada, which experienced the largest declines in housing prices and biggest increases in foreclosures.
"Not only were Hispanics a significant part of the industries hardest hit by the recession, but they have also been underrepresented in education and health activities — sectors that have experienced growth during the Great Recession," said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of Congress' Joint Economic Committee, which produced the report.
The study also shows that the recession derailed gains Hispanics had achieved relative to the overall labor force.
In May 2006 when the U.S. economy was booming, the Hispanic unemployment rate, at 4.9%, was just slightly above the overall national unemployment rate, according to the report. But by October 2009 the Hispanic unemployment rate has surged to 13.1%, 3 percentage points higher than the overall rate.
Latinos account for about one-seventh of the U.S. labor force, but comprise nearly one-fifth of the unemployed.
While the typical unemployment spell lasted 21.6 weeks in March 2010, Latinos actually experience shorter periods of unemployment, at 18.9 weeks, than the overall labor force.
The report did not specify the immigration status of Hispanics. However, the latest figures from the American Community Survey suggest 48% of Hispanics in the U.S. in 2007 were foreign born. The same survey also indicated 24% of U.S. workers born in Mexico and 21% from Central American countries were employed in construction, extraction, maintenance and repair occupations in 2007, compared with about 13% of workers born in South America.
Audrey Singer, a senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at Washington's Brookings Institution, said these figures could indicate that "unauthorized Hispanic migrants are the segment most likely to be adversely impacted" by the recession in the last three years. But she also said this group of Hispanic workers also tend to be more mobile and gravitate toward places where there are jobs.