Housing crash, teens drive Hispanic unemployment above national average
As part of Unemployment Week here at the Ticker, today I'm going to dive into the Hispanic unemployment picture in the U.S.
Last Friday, the government told us that the official unemployment rate in the U.S. is 10.2 percent, the highest since the crippling early '80s recession.
But that only tells us part of the story, so I'm unpacking the data all week. On Monday, I told you that the U.S. unemployment rate is now higher than Europe's (even France's!). On Tuesday, I examined the alarmingly high teenage unemployment rate (27.6 percent). Yesterday was Veterans Day, so I took at look at unemployed vets, focusing on the high joblessness among veterans of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today, I'm taking a look at employment among Hispanics in the U.S.
According to the most recent data from the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate among all Hispanics is 13.1 percent, close to but not above the all-time high of 15.6 percent, set in March 1983. (BLS data on Hispanics goes back to 1973.)
(An aside: Generally, I like to use the phrase "Spanish-speaking," because, as the BLS says, "Persons whose ethnicity is identified as 'Hispanic or Latino' may be of any race." Both words are freighted with political and cultural meaning, so I find "Spanish-speaking" to be more accurate. However, since I'm using the BLS data, I'm going to stick with "Hispanic" here.)
Before we go any further, there are some things we need to address about Hispanic workers, which make the numbers a bit spongy.
First, we don't know how many Hispanics are working illegally in the country, so it's impossible to get a true, total number for employment.
One way to guess at Hispanic employment in the U.S. is to track remittances to Spanish-speaking countries, or how much workers here are sending home. According to the Banco de Mexico, remittances to Mexico were down 13.4 percent during the first nine months of this year compared with the same period in 2008. The 2008 remittance number was down 3.8 percent from 2007.
Second, the Spanish-speaking workforce is subject to wild swings because so much of it depends on seasonal work, so much so that the BLS does not have seasonally adjusted employment data for Hispanics, as it does for other groups.
Seasonal work includes agriculture, but also construction. And that's part of what's driving unemployment among Hispanics.
The unemployment number for all Hispanics almost exactly tracks the housing boom and bust.
The rate hit an all-time low of 4.6 percent in October 2006, at the height of the housing bubble, when builders were throwing up new houses on spec by the hundreds of thousands. By and large, they were hiring Hispanic workers.
As the housing bubble burst, Hispanic unemployment soared, rising consistently through 2008 and then zooming up this year to its current rate.
However, digging deeper into the BLS data, you find something interesting: Unemployment among Hispanic adults is actually decreasing.
For Hispanic men 20 and older, the unemployment rate peaked at 12.3 percent in August and has been going down since, now sitting at 11.9 percent.
For Hispanic women 20 years and older, the rate peaked at 11.8 percent in July and has been declining since, now sitting at 10.5 percent.
It turns out that the surge in unemployment among Hispanics is being driven by teenagers ages 16 to 19.
In October, the unemployment rate for that group hit an all-time high of 35.6 percent. For white teenagers, the unemployment rate is 25.3 percent. For blacks, it's 41.3 percent. (Raw numbers: 1.29 million white teens are unemployed, compared with 289,000 black teens and 353,000 Hispanic teens, though that number, as I mentioned, is probably spongy.)
Teen unemployment among Hispanics hit an all-time low of 12.4 percent in April 2006, just as housing prices were hitting peaking. Here's what that tells you: The house you bought during the boom was probably built by Spanish-speaking teenagers.
Now, with the housing market not yet bottomed, those teens are out of work.
I know it's only anecdotal and there are numerous factors that contribute, but there are a number of day-labor pickup spots near where I live, where Spanish-speaking men wait for work. And in the past year, the number of Hispanic men I see waiting around has not only doubled, it's gotten younger.
-- Frank Ahrens
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November 12, 2009; 11:24 AM ET
Categories: The Ticker | Tags: BLS, Hispanics, unemployment
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