The unemployment rate among Hispanics in Connecticut was the third highest in the nation in 2010, with about 17 percent of the population unable to find a job, a new analysis shows. Only Nevada and Rhode Island had higher jobless totals among Hispanics, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank.
That's more than twice the unemployment rate among the state's white non-Hispanic workforce, which was about 7 percent last year.
The disparity can be explained by education, experts said. According to the 2010 Census, a third of Hispanic adults in Connecticut have less than a high school diploma, about 32 percent have a high school diploma, and only 14 percent have at least a bachelor's degree. (The rest have some college but didn't graduate, or associate's degrees).
Among whites who are not Hispanic, fewer than 8 percent are high school drop-outs, 28 percent have high school diplomas and 40 percent have at least a bachelor's degree.
In any group, whether ethnic, racial or geographic, higher education generally means lower unemployment.
"For me, it spells the need for school reform in Connecticut," said Shana Kennedy, interim executive director of the Connecticut Council for Educational Reform. "We can't continue to have enormous achievement gaps and then have enormous employment gaps years later."
Julio Morales, professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, said it's not surprising that Rhode Island is No. 1 in Hispanic unemployment, at about 22 percent, and Connecticut is No. 3. He said while Puerto Ricans came to Connecticut initially to work in the tobacco fields in the late 1940s and 1950s, they soon moved into manufacturing and low-skill hospital and restaurant jobs.
But as the Northeast deindustrialized in the 1970s '80s and '90s, Hispanic migrants were trapped with the skills for another age.
"What the Irish and the Italians brought was their willingness to do hard work. All they needed was a strong back and a willingness to work," Morales said. The same went for Puerto Ricans, he said, and those who arrived in the Northeast in the 1950s and 1960s did pretty well. But as family and friends continued to follow the first migrants to Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, Willimantic, Waterbury and Bridgeport, those manual labor jobs were no longer so easy to come by.
"I'm sure that Puerto Ricans that have a higher education are highly employed, that's not an issue," Morales said. "All the Puerto Ricans I know that have college degrees, they're employed, that's not an issue at all."
According to the Economic Policy Institute's estimates, which are based on census data and labor department unemployment surveys, Connecticut's Hispanic unemployment rate jumped from 13 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in 2010. That's the most dramatic increase of any state with a significant Hispanic workforce, but the data has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
Author Algernon Austin at EPI could not explain why Connecticut's rate rose so much, or why it's so high. Nevada, the state with the second-highest Hispanic unemployment rate, had a construction boom and bust, and Hispanic men were disproportionately represented on construction sites. But Connecticut's Hispanic employment was not concentrated in construction, but rather in manufacturing and health care — both of which added jobs from 2009 to 2010.
EPI also released data showing Hispanic unemployment by metropolitan area but the sample sizes were too small to be reliable.
Morales said the United States should do a better job of making sure Hispanics, or their children, have a way to climb into the middle class. He's troubled by stories like the one he heard two years ago from a Puerto Rican janitor who had been cleaning an office in a union job at $15 an hour, and then was hired back after that contract was terminated at minimum wage.
"Latinos, Puerto Ricans included, we're 16 percent of the population so the United States must figure out how to address the needs of this population," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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