published Monday, February 16th, 2009

Dalton: Job losses push immigrants out

FAST FACTS

Between 1990 and 2000, the Hispanic population tripled and quadrupled in several Southern states, which the Pew Hispanic Center calls the “new settlement” states:

* North Carolina: 394 percent

* Arkansas: 337 percent

* Georgia: 300 percent

* Tennessee: 278 percent

* South Carolina: 211 percent

* Alabama: 208 percent

Source: Pew Hispanic Center, “The New Latino South: The Context and Consequences of Rapid Population Growth,” 2005.

BY THE NUMBERS

* 70: Percentage of Hispanics who worked in manufacturing in Murray, Whitfield and Gordon counties in 2000.

* 410,000: Jobs created by economic growth in new settlement Southern states for Hispanic workers in the 1990s.

* 1.9 million: Jobs created by economic growth in new settlement Southern states for non-Hispanic workers in the 1990s.

Source: Pew Hispanic Center, “The New Latino South: The Context and Consequences of Rapid Population Growth,” 2005.

DALTON, Ga. — About seven months ago, Maria Arreguin lost her job at a carpet factory, abruptly halving her family’s income.

Since then, Mrs. Arreguin, a Mexico native who has lived here for the past six years, hasn’t been able to find another job. She may have to go back to her home country if nothing opens up.

“No one is hiring anymore,” she said in Spanish. “We are having to save on a lot of things, only using one car and saving on electricity.”

Mrs. Arreguin is among 4,100 people in Dalton who lost their jobs between December 2007 and December 2008. The jobless rate now stands at 11.2 percent — the highest of any city in Georgia.

Dr. Marilyn Helms, a management professor at Dalton State College, said that during the 1990s, the carpet industry, hungry for workers, attracted a lot of Hispanic immigrants.

“(But) now with the recession and the layoffs, they are leaving,” Dr. Helms said. “They have to look elsewhere for work if they can’t find work here. They have to support their family.”

Hispanics make up more than 40 percent of the population in Dalton, according to 2000 U.S. Census Bureau figures, although organizations in the city that work with Hispanics say the figure is likely much higher.

There is no hard data to substantiate immigrants are leaving to work in other states or are going back to their native countries, but almost anyone in Dalton’s Hispanic community will say he or she knows someone who has left or is considering leaving.

Several churches confirm that members of their congregations have left, either returning to their native countries or seeking jobs in other states such as Texas, Florida and Ohio.

“I personally know about 10 families who have left the area,” said Julio Sanchez, treasurer at Pentecostal Church of God, a Hispanic church with a congregation of about 150.

Although things are difficult for the Arreguins, their two daughters, both born in the United States, are why they remain in Dalton.

“My family tells me that at least over here we have a roof over our heads and a plate of food on the table, but it’s a really tough decision to make because of them,” she said, looking at her two daughters, Andrea, 4 and Alondra, 5.

During the last year, the Dalton-Whitfield Community Development Corp., a nonprofit organization that among other services offers homebuyers education and down payment assistance, has seen an increase in the number of Hispanic clients, especially for foreclosure counseling, said Jazmin Alvarado, a foreclosure prevention specialist.

“About 69 percent of our services are for foreclosure counseling and, out of that, more than 50 percent are for Hispanics,” an increase from last year, she said. “A lot of them, when they come in, it’s because of unemployment or reduced hours from a carpet factory.”

Usually, they’re trying to sell their homes to move out of Dalton, she said.

Manuel Carrasco, who has lived in Dalton for 13 years, initially arrived because of job opportunities in the carpet mills. But after losing his job a few weeks ago, he said he is considering going back to his home in Mexico.

“What are we going to do here without a job and without money?” he said. “It’s better to go back, even if the situation is as bad over there.”

But others are more patient.

Jesus Ochoa, owner of J and A Auto Repair and Tire Sales on East Morris Street, moved from California about two years ago because of the high cost of living there.

“We didn’t think the economy was going to hit so hard here,” he said. “People are not buying new tires any more. They only purchase used tires and use them as long as they can.”

Although business is slow, Mr. Ochoa said he has decided to wait.

“We bought a house and a business when we moved here,” he said of his decision to stay put.

Staff writer Dave Flessner contributed to this article.

about Perla Trevizo...

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 ...

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