2/6: Unemployment Hits Immigrants Harder Than U.S.-Born
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By SARA MURRAY And MIRIAM JORDAN Wall Street Journal
February 6, 2010
The unemployment rate among U.S. immigrants outpaced that of native-born workers last month, with the gap particularly pronounced among women.
Some 11.8% of foreign-born workers were unemployed in January, compared with 10.3% of native workers, the Labor Department said Friday.
In addition to a deep recession that has wiped out more than eight-million jobs, the prevalence of immigrants working in the hard-hit construction sector helped fuel the higher numbers, according to analysts.
Historically, the department hasn't published separate unemployment rates for foreign-born workers on a monthly basis. Previously the rate of joblessness for immigrants was reported only as an annual average. Both legal and illegal immigrants are included in the Labor Department's numbers, though the depth of unemployment for the undocumented workers might be under-represented.
"There has been a fairly sharp increase in the unemployment rate among foreign-born Hispanics, who we know constitute more than half of the foreign-born work force in the U.S. and are disproportionately represented in the construction industry," said Rakesh Kochhar, associate director for research at the independent Pew Hispanic Center in Washington.
Dwindling construction jobs—which fell by 75,000 in January alone—has made finding work more difficult for the immigrant community. Since the recession began in December 2007, construction employment has lost 1.9 million jobs.
However, while the jobless rate for foreign-born men is little different than that for their native-born counterparts, there is a substantial divide among women: Last month, the unemployment rate for immigrant women was 10.6%, while for native-born women it was 8.2%.
Jobs that tend to be popular among immigrant women, such as working on cleaning crews and in hospitality, are sparse. Employment in leisure and hospitality fell by 14,000 last month.
At the Hollywood Day Laborer Center in California one recent day, about 75 men sat at picnic tables next to a trailer, the hiring hall's office. Some of the idle construction workers played checkers with bottle caps. "We're so bored," one muttered.
Juan Ralda, 23 years old, said he is a masonry expert who worked for a contractor in Santa Monica until financing dried up for his residential projects.
"I haven't had steady work for a year," said the Guatemalan immigrant. He used to send home $300 a month to help support his mother and three siblings. "Now, I barely earn enough money to eat and pay the rent," he said. In the U.S. for four years, Mr. Ralda said he doesn't think of returning home because"there's not much opportunity in my country, either."
As an undocumented immigrant, he risks being caught and deported if he tries to sneak into the U.S. again. Asked whether he had tried to find jobs at car washes or restaurants, Mr. Ralda said he had: "Those are all full."
Indeed, finding any job has been difficult, said Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, an advocacy group for low-wage and immigrant workers based in New York City. "They are competing with people who may have higher skills and more of them," she said.
The Labor Department's unemployment statistics point to a shift in fortunes for immigrant labor: From 2004 until 2008, the jobless rate for foreign-born workers either matched or was lower than that for native-born workers. For 2009, the average rate for immigrants was higher.=================================================================
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