In California and Elsewhere, Latinos Disproportionately Affected By Recession

Social worker Lourdes Cienfuegos, at right, talks to an Imperial Valley resident - Photo: La Opinión

Social worker Lourdes Cienfuegos, at right, talks to an Imperial Valley resident. (Photo: La Opinión)

Sara Espinosa chose to sleep on the street rather than leave her 12-year-old son to spend the night alone at a men-only homeless shelter. As a consequence, Sara, her son and her two daughters have been sleeping in her car.

Espinosa is one of hundreds of people in conditions of extreme poverty in Imperial Valley, one of the poorest counties in California and the nation, La Opinión reporter Claudia Nuñez wrote Wednesday.

Here, the unemployment rate has already passed 24 percent, almost four times the national average, and one out of every 18 families has lost their home.

While Imperial Valley is an extreme case, a report released last week by the Pew Hispanic Center shows the economic recession “is having an especially severe impact on employment prospects for immigrant Hispanics,” according to Rakesh Kochhar, the center’s associate director for research.

The unemployment rate for foreign-born Hispanics increased from 5.1 percent to 8 percent, or by 2.9 percentage points, from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2008. During this same time period, the unemployment rate for all persons in the labor market increased from 4.6 percent to 6.6 percent, or by 2 percentage points.

Hispanics born in the U.S. are not doing much better, and the same can be said of blacks, the report said.

“Blacks are currently the only major racial and ethnic group whose unemployment rate is in double digits, 11.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008,” Kochhar wrote. “Native-born Hispanics had the second highest rate of unemployment (9.5 percent) in the fourth quarter of 2008. However, changes in the employment rate and other indicators of labor market activity during the recession have been less severe for them than for foreign-born Hispanics.”

Pew Hispanic Center - Graphic

Unemployment is affecting foreign-born Hispanics more than the rest of the population.

La Opinión reported that this ethnically-differentiated effect of the recession is also affecting Californians in particular: while 7 percent of white workers in the state are unemployed, 11.5 percent of blacks and 9.4 percent of Hispanics are without a job. (It is important to note that unemployment rates don’t include people who are no longer actively seeking work and are not considered participants in the labor force).

“Unfortunately, the less education immigrants have, the fewer opportunities they have of getting another job if they are fired,” said Jorge Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “We’re seeing some women go out on the street to sell products, to try and help with the family income.”

In this dismal context, an Obama ally, former energy secretary Federico Peña, said the stimulus plan signed into law by the president will benefit Latinos greatly.

Peña told Spanish wire service Agencia EFE Latinos may benefit from tax refunds of $400 for most workers ($800 for couples,) from measures intended to spur consumption, additional funding for education, and provisions to extend health coverage and other supports to those who lose their jobs.

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