Reviving Latino workforce key to rebuilding America

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The recession has hurt all America’s workers, especially Latino workers. Despite their growing political power, Latinos are still at the bottom of the economic ladder. Until the nation enacts policies that help lift Latinos and other communities of color, the economy cannot fully recover, according to a new report.

“Reviving the Latino Workforce: Complex Problems Demand Comprehensive Solutions,” released June 17 by the AFL-CIO constituency group, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), points out the interconnections fueling this economic hardship, and the need for comprehensive solutions.

For example, the unemployment rate for all Latinos has been steadily increasing since the beginning of the recession in December 2007. Latino joblessness reached 12.7 percent in May, almost three percentage points higher than the national average. Also, Latinos are paid low wages—Latino households earn just over 50 cents for every dollar earned by a white household, the report says.

It is clear that simply creating new jobs will not be enough to save the Latino workforce, says Gabriela Lemus, LCLAA’s executive director.

An economic stimulus plan alone will not suffice. It is also important to engage in progressive policy reform in the areas of health care and immigration, and to target adult workforce retraining and efforts such as the Employee Free Choice Act so as to better empower the community in its social, economic and political aspirations.

The nation cannot afford to ignore the needs of the Latino workers, the report says. Not only are Latinos the fastest growing segment of the workforce, they are younger than most Americans with an average age of 25.8 years. The Latino population is expected to reach 47.8 million by 2010. Already, Latinos make up more than 14 percent of the nation’s labor force. Yet Latinos generally are clustered in low-wage jobs and lack access to quality health care and benefits. Employers often exploit the immigrant workers and use them as pawns to lower wages for all workers.

For the United States to remain competitive in the global economy, it must engage all its workers in rebuilding the economy, the report adds. That cannot happen if a large segment of workers are denied the basic necessities, the report adds.

Specifically, the report calls for:

* Spending federal stimulus funds where they are most needed, providing jobs for low-income workers and communities. * Passing comprehensive health care reform to provide care to those currently uninsured or unable to get quality care because of low income, which include primarily people of color. * Enacting a realistic immigration policy that meets the country’s economic needs. LCLAA recommends using the framework developed by former Labor Secretary Ray Marshall and adopted by the AFL-CIO to begin discussions on a fair immigration plan. * Enforcing workers’ rights provisions in trade agreements to help raise wages in other countries to lower the need for workers to migrate to the United States to seek a better life. * Restoring the freedom to join unions by passing the Employee Free Choice Act and educating all workers, especially Latinos, about their rights under the law.

Lemus says now is the time to make the changes needed to help Latinos to become fully integrated into the U.S. economy. She points out that two-thirds of the nearly 12 million Latino voters backed Barack Obama, allowing him to carry key states such as California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.

Latinos contribute much to the United States. They are part of the engine that drives the economy. They are trying to adapt to the changed economy, but they are so disadvantaged relative to other cultural groups that more comprehensive assistance is needed in order for them to better and more fully participate.

The data are clear: The gap between rich and poor is widening, and certain communities—including Latinos—have been placed on the margins. If ever there was a time when private interests and social interests can be converged and harmful market forces can be corrected by public policy, this is it.