Since Julio Rangel came to the United States from Mexico almost seven years ago, there only have been two periods when finding work was almost impossible: After 9/11 and in 2007.
“It’s very difficult to find good jobs,” said Mr. Rangel, speaking Spanish, “and the ones you find only pay $5 or $6 an hour.”
Mr. Rangel first came to the United States in 2001 to work construction in Houston, but has was laid off when work slowed. In 2003, he moved to Chattanooga to work for an independent contractor remodeling homes and buildings.
“At first, there were only two of us working for the employer and, as the volume of work increased, he hired more people,” Mr. Rangel said. “At the end he had about six or seven people working for him and there was plenty of work.”
But as the economy cooled, his employer lowered their wages, Mr. Rangel said, and when that wasn’t enough to make up for the lack of business, he was laid off in 2007. He now is self-employed, doing various landscaping and home-repair work.
Mr. Rangel’s job was among 250,000 Hispanics lost nationwide over the past year because of the slump in the construction sector, according to a report recently released by the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center.
For several years, construction was the mainstay of job growth for Hispanic workers, especially those who are immigrants, according to the “Latino Labor Report, 2008: Construction Reverses Job Growth for Latinos.”
The unemployment rate for Hispanics in United States rose to 6.5 percent in the first quarter of 2008, compared to 4.7 percent for all non-Hispanics, the center reported.
“The last time the unemployment rate for Hispanics was as high as 6.5 percent was in the fourth quarter of 2004, during the first full year of recovery from the 2001 recession and subsequent slowdown,” the report said.
In Tennessee, Hispanics are not the hardest hit by unemployment, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor. In 2007, the latest figures available, the unemployment rate for blacks was 9.3 percent, followed by 5.3 percent for Hispanics, 3.9 percent for whites and 3.7 percent for Asians, according to the department.
education levels a factor
While the degree to which each group is fully integrated and accepted within the community affects the unemployment rate, the level of education within each group may be one of the most important factors, said Dr. Matt Murray, professor of economics at the University of Tennessee.
“Part of what you are seeing in the statistics is not a Hispanic phenomenon,” Dr. Murray said. “It’s a phenomenon that reflects the relatively low levels of education.”
For newly arrived immigrants, the struggle to find or keep a job is even greater, according to the Pew report.
“The unemployment rate for immigrants who arrived in 2000 or later years now stands close to the double-digit mark, increasing from 7.1 percent in the first quarter of 2007 to 9.3 percent in the first quarter of 2008,” it said.
When there is an economic slowdown, it’s common for the most-recently hired to be laid off first, Dr. Murray said.
The loss of other jobs also is related to the downturn in the carpet industry.
In Dalton, Ga., known as the “carpet capital,” there has been a significant slowdown in the carpet industry, according to the Carpet and Rug Institute, an industry trade association.
In January, metro Dalton lost 1,400 jobs and the city’s jobless rate jumped to 5.6 percent — the highest rate since February 1997, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. Georgia State University’s Economic Forecasting Center predicts that Dalton will be Georgia’s only metro area to suffer a net job decline in 2008.
Even for those who don’t lose their jobs, times are tough, with shorter work shifts and less take-home pay, Dalton Mayor’s David Pennington has said.
Luis Fernando Arevalo has worked for two years at Synthetic Turf Resources, a Dalton-based company that provides yarn as well and other textile products to the synthetic turf industry. Mr. Arevalo said he used to work at least 40 hours per week, but that was reduced to 32 hours, and, until recently, he worked only every other week.
Now work has slowly picked up, he said, and he’s back to working 48 hours one week and 36 hours the next.
Less hours per week and his wife’s unemployment has meant not sending as much money to their families in Guatemala and cutting back on expenses such as eating out, he said.
Mr. Arevalo, who has lived in the United States for seven years, said he has noticed a lot of “for rent” or “for sale” signs around the Dalton area and has friends who’ve returned to their native countries or left for other states.
women out of work
Hispanic women also are losing work, especially in manufacturing, the service industry and lodging services, according to the Pew Hispanic Center’s report.
Marjoriet Bazan, a Peru native who works at the Ooltewah Cracker Barrel restaurant, said she has noticed a significant decrease in the number of customers during the past year, although she can’t say exactly by how much.
“They are not giving us a lot of hours any more because there are not as many clients as before,” Mrs. Bazan, who moved from New Jersey to Chattanooga two years ago, said speaking in Spanish.
In order to meet her family’s expenses, they combine her salary with those of her husband, who works with her at the restaurant, and her daughter, who works at a local jewelry and clothing store, she said.
“A lot of times we are struggling to pay the $940 per month mortgage,” she said. “I think the cost of gasoline has a lot to do with how people are struggling right now. People don’t eat out as much, they don’t spend as much because what they earn is not enough.”
But Dr. Murray said he would expect Hispanics to be “very quickly brought back on to the payrolls” with a strong economic recovery.
“When the construction industry or other employers need workers and the labor market gets tight, they will turn to these other groups and hire them back,” he said.
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...