The Latino labor engine


This is the third blog of a four-part blog series themed “Latinos: Powering the U.S. Economy to End Hunger” to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. This entry focuses on the role of Latinos in the U.S. workforce.

By Esteban Garcia

Latinos make up a large – 56 million of us across the country – and diverse sector of the U.S. population. Evidently, they also make up a considerable swath of our nation’s hard-working labor force. Latinos make up about 17 percent of the population, and account for 15 percent of the labor force. Of those working Latinos, nearly one-fourth are in low-wage jobs. But, why? The barriers that many Latinos face to obtaining the adequate, life-sustaining work are diverse.

At the root of the challenges for Latinos is discrimination. Despite our strong presence in many areas of the country and in all sectors of the economy, as well as our diversity, many of us share a struggle against discrimination in securing jobs, and in the workplace once there. Overall, Latinos suffer from higher rates of unemployment than the general population, 6.7 percent compared to 5.5 percent. Even those with stable employment don’t always have it easy; almost 30 percent of Latinos live in households with annual incomes of less than $25,000 and the annual median income for Latinos is nearly $12,000 lower than for the general population.

For immigrants – a sector of the population with a large overlap with the Latino community – the reality is often harsher. Migrant and seasonal workers, many of whom come work to be able to send money back to their families, have an annual median income of $7,500.

What does this mean for Latinos on a daily basis? Less stable and lower-paid employment often equals higher rates of hunger and poverty and, by extension, poorer health. Among households with children, 21.9 percent of Latino households face food insecurity, compared to 16.5 percent of the general population. Additionally, Latinos are almost twice as likely as whites to face food insecurity.

For a population that contributes so much to the economy of the United States, Latinos suffer disproportionately from the effects of inequality and marginalization. Worst of all, Latino children, the most vulnerable among us, are at critical moments in their lives while facing those challenges. When a parent is deported or incarcerated – incarceration rates are soaring among Latinos – it means one less income to buy healthy food that lets children survive and thrive.

The surest way to keep people out of hunger is a stable job that pays a solid wage. This remains elusive for millions of Latinos across the U.S., and children often suffer the worst of consequences. It’s clear that in order to best fight hunger and poverty, we must recognize the value of Latino contributions to the economy and advocate for employment that ensures a dignified life for all.

Esteban Garcia is the media relations specialist at Bread for the World. 

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