The most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show promising employment figures and a drop in unemployment rates for the third quarter of this year. Essentially, the Bureau reported that the U.S. economy was improving, citing hefty job gains of more than 500,000 in October and a drop in unemployment rates to 4.6 percent. As we assess improved job opportunities in the post-pandemic economy, it is essential to discuss the pressing economic concerns of Latinos in the workforce
Latinos, with a U.S. population of 60 million, account for millions of workers in the Western and Southern states.
Today, nearly as many Latinos live in the South as those who live in the western United States. Latinos represent the majority ethnic population in major cities of the Southwest including three of the five largest cities in America–Los Angeles, Houston, and Dallas-Fort Worth. While Latinos have traditionally found work in the service and hospitality industries, today they can be found in nearly all professions, including a sizable number in health and education.
Latinos are entering the job market in record numbers; nonetheless they are troubled about the stability of the national economy. They are not alone. Recent polls released in November show that Americans have now moved the economy to the top of their most pressing concerns, a few points ahead of the Coronavirus pandemic. Reuters reported: “Americans are also closely watching the pandemic-era job market, where businesses struggle to find enough workers while millions of people remain unemployed: the Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that 73% of adults want political leaders to focus their attention on jobs and economic growth.”
While many unemployed Americans worry about when and whether they should return to work in the anticipation of a less dangerous pandemic world, there are apparently many new job openings expected in the coming year for Latinos looking to change jobs. The Washington Post noted that a “record 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in September.” [Washington Post, Nov. 12, 2021]. The Post reported that “workers took advantage of the surge in job openings across the country, as a sign of how labor market imbalances continue to complicate the economic recovery 20 months into the pandemic.” Economists anticipate that end of the year economic reports will include information on how Latinos fared in the current market disruptions.
The last twelve months, no doubt, have been difficult for Latinos who are overrepresented in the service and hospitality industries. In a Third Quarter report of the Federal Reserve of Dallas, Tamar Jacoby, president of Opportunity American, spoke to the issue of disappearing jobs in the unskilled sector: Her principal concern is that “jobs at the bottom of the skill ladder are more likely to involve routine tasks, so they are more likely to be transformed or eliminated by automation.”
Writing in Fast Company, Connie Lin had another take on job losses and gains, noting that the “Great Resignation continues to upend workforces across the country.” There are numerous reasons for that unsettling news in the nation’s economy including Covid-19 and the need for child and family care. Additionally, many workers are discouraged from seeking in-person work.
Fortune Magazine noted that as of September 2021, food service and retail industries were shedding workers at the highest rates: “A total of 863,000 workers in food service and 685,000 in retail left their jobs.” In Texas, as well as other western states, Latinos have been overrepresented, and in many instances, accounted for over 50 percent of the workforce in these industries. Over the same period, according to Fortune Magazine writers Kylie Logan and Lance Lambert, “a total of 987,000 Americans left hospitality, another 984,000 left trade, transportation, and utilities industries, and 589,000 left health care.” Latinos represented many among those who left these jobs as well.
There is also the dynamic of newly empowered workers. Fast Company concluded that the Great Resignation “promises a sort of labor revolution for a formerly disenfranchised workforce.” Workers today are demanding higher pay and a variety of benefits including complimentary daycare and student loan relief.
Texas, where thousands of Latinos are employed as school teachers, currently pays elementary school teachers an average of $30,700 a year. The U.S. News and World Report in 2021 showed that the U.S. median salary for elementary teachers was $59,600; the highest 25 percent earned $77,000; while the lowest 25 percent took home $47,300. Although many school districts in Texas are raising teacher salaries, poorer school districts are experiencing greater teacher vacancies and difficulties in finding substitutes, support staff, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers.
Many schools with high Latino attendance, such as San Antonio School District where 61% of the city is Latino, are experiencing difficulties hiring teachers. A ZipRecruiter report noted that San Antonio schools were offering a salary of $31,726 for entry level teachers. The report offered this additional insight: “Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $15.25 an hour. This is the equivalent of $610/week or $2,644/month.”
I checked with Dr. Frank Guajardo, a longtime teacher in the Rio Grande Valley and now Chief Executive Officer of the Museum of South Texas History. His two sons, both teachers, recently found teaching jobs in the Valley beginning at $45,000. It appears that large urban schools in districts such as San Antonio are falling behind in recruiting top talent. In years past, South Texas teachers moved to San Antonio, Houston, and Austin to find better teaching posts, but that is no longer the case.
Many of the newer jobs require technical skills and higher education. Thus, it is crucial that Latinos prepare for the changes occurring in the workforce and that Latino youth in both urban and rural areas have well-prepared and well-educated teachers and school administrators. Latinos have demonstrated in recent decades that when they are provided greater higher educational opportunities and job training, they make valuable contributions to the U.S. economy.