A Latino Blue Collar Ceiling in Chicago?

Conventional wisdom is that the U.S.-born children of immigrants should fare better than their parents, with better education and higher paying jobs. But a new study from the Latino Policy Forum shows that’s not the case in Chicago – especially among Mexican-Americans, who are still stuck in the same low-wage jobs as their foreign-born parents.

Leticia Tejada/New Journalism on Latino Children Project

With the sheer size of the Latino workforce – three out of five new entrants into the workforce over the past decade – that has implications for Chicago’s entire economy, said Latino Policy Forum Director Sylvia Puente, who added Chicago needs to act now to ensure that the metropolitan area’s future workforce remains economically vibrant.

“The question we’re asking is, is there a Latino blue collar ceiling in Chicago because we’re seeing limited economic mobility, between native-born workers and immigrant workers of Mexican origin – the majority are in sales, manufacturing and construction,” Puente said.

The research is based mostly on American Community Survey data which is collected by the federal government yearly. The report was done by the University of California, Berkeley professor Bruce Fuller at Berkeley’s Institute for Human Development.

A very small number of U.S.-born Latinos are in what’s commonly referred to as STEM – science, technology, engineering or math – careers, or business, Puente added.

Check out these charts below to see the types of industries we’re talking about:

Leticia Tejada/New Journalism on Latino Children Project

All of this also translates to much lower average wages. One headline from that chart, just below: The typical white male in Chicago earns $10 an hour – compared to $7 an hour for a Mexican-American male – also born in Chicago.

Leticia Tejada/New Journalism on Latino Children Project

How does this gap get closed? Puente says she thinks education is the key. But while those numbers have improved, they’re also rather grim: Chicago’s Latino high school graduation rate, at 59 percent, is the highest it has ever been – but compare that to a 64 percent rate for white Chicagoans and 80 percent for Asians. National numbers show that while 1 in 3 Latinos begins college, completion rates are not as high.

“It’s a paradox,” Puente said. “We’re seeing gains, but they’re not fast enough, and they’re not quick enough and the gap isn’t closing to the degree that we would like.”

It’s an obvious question to wonder why this generation of immigrants is not following the traditional path that we tend to think happens with American immigrants: the foreign-born parents working in more low-skilled, low-wage jobs, but then their U.S. born and educated children doing better. This isn’t necessarily a question of undocumented immigrants – 70 percent of Latinos in the United States are here legally, Puente said.

Puente thinks its because Mexican-Americans are coming into a labor market structure that is significantly different than it was previously.

“My parents’ generation gave me a middle class life working factory jobs – they were good-paying jobs, with benefits, vacation and retirement,” Puente said. “The manufacturing industry has really revamped itself. There aren’t as many of those jobs, and there certainly are fewer of those jobs paying a middle-class wage and having the benefits they used to have.”





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