Hispanic Immigrants Drop in U.S. Labor Force

By Alejandro Lazo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The percentage of Hispanic immigrants who are working or looking for a job in the United States has declined for the first time since 2003, according to a study released yesterday.

The Pew Hispanic Center, which published the report, said the findings are a testament to the nature and depth of the recession, which is rooted in slumping housing values, as many Hispanic immigrants found work in construction in the boom years.

"The recession has widened and deepened, and, driven by construction, it has certainly seemed to put Latino immigrants in a state of transition," said Rakesh Kochhar, an economist with Pew and author of the study. "The question is: What is the next thing to emerge? Are we now going to see a return back home?"

The study was based on data from the Current Population Survey, which is produced jointly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau. The Pew center said it found a small but significant decline in the share of Hispanic immigrants active in the U.S. labor force.

The percentage of Hispanic immigrants who were either employed or actively looking for a job at the end of the third quarter was 71.3 percent, compared with 72.4 percent a year ago, according to the study. The drop comes after steady yearly increases since 2003.

The number of Hispanic immigrants in the labor force increased 150,000 from the third quarter of 2007 to the third quarter of 2008. But that growth was much smaller than the growth in the working-age population of Hispanic immigrants. Overall, there are 17.1 million foreign-born Hispanics in the working-age population.

The decrease was sharpest among immigrants from Mexico, who make up more than two-thirds of the U.S. Hispanic immigrant population. The share of Mexican-born immigrants in the U.S. workforce declined to 70.7 percent from 72.7 percent, according to the study.

Michael Fix, director of studies at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, said the modesty of the decline found by the Pew study surprised him because the construction industry and other low-skilled professions drove job growth for Hispanic immigrants in past years.

He said that one explanation might be that Hispanic immigrants are typically more mobile than the overall workforce and more willing to take a pay cut or reduced hours.

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