Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Newly arrived Hispanic immigrant workers bring down the wages of their working-class native and established-immigrant peers, according to a report based on 1990 census data.

The researcher said the 13-year-old data was the most recent and complete information available, but other analysts said the study failed to reflect an economy that has evolved along with the influx of both legal and illegal immigrants through the prosperous 1990s.

The report released by Lisa Catanzarite with the Chicano Studies Research Center at the University of California at Los Angeles, found that men, both native and established immigrants, earned an average of 11 percent less than others in blue-collar jobs when they worked alongside recently arrived Hispanics.

The higher the number of newly arrived Hispanic men on the job, the less money the other workers tended to make, the research found.

The study scrutinized data on male workers in 38 U.S. cities, including New York, San Diego and Washington.

“Results show that in occupations with many newcomer Latino incumbents, other workers earn lower wages than would be expected,” the study reports. “That is, there are substantial wage penalties in local brown-collar occupations; significantly larger penalties for minorities than for whites; and reduced monetary returns to schooling in brown-collar fields.”

The term “brown-collar fields” refers to occupations dominated by Hispanic workers.

The study recommended expanding worker protections for the immigrants, enforcing minimum-wage standards and extending amnesty.

The findings contradict previous surveys, which concluded that newcomers did not affect overall wages. The analysis does not account for the economically booming 1990s, noted Marie Mora, assistant professor of economics at the University of Texas Pan-American.

“In the 1990s, we had the biggest economic boom ever,” Miss Mora said. “Unemployment fell … and something had to keep the economy up, and the labor market in 2000 is very different than the labor market in 1990.”

Added Barbara J. Robles, a member of the Hispanic Business magazine board of economists: “I would never use a [study based on] 1990 census data now, especially when looking at trends.”

Miss Catanzarite said that 2000 census figures for the entire nation were not available when she began her report three years ago.

She said that the vulnerability — if not the eagerness — of newly arrived, often illegal immigrants was a large factor in the skewing of wages.

“I do believe that this is the major factor in this,” she said in a telephone interview. “Recent immigrants would not be asking for such little pay if they were not in such a precarious position.”

The 2000 counterpart of the census data used for the UCLA study first became available last week for six states. Five more states are available today, with the rest to come over the next few weeks.

The construction industry, particularly in the Southeast, where many of the new immigrants are settling, has relied on Hispanic workers to complete projects at a reasonable cost.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 550,000 new construction jobs will be created through 2008, an incentive to immigrants, particularly those in Mexico, to cross the border.

The wage disparity has been acknowledged on the street for some time, creating resentment among blue-collar workers. The country’s unions, seeking to fill their depleting ranks, have sought the newly arrived Hispanic laborers in particular.

“When you first come to this country and are undocumented, it leaves you little bargaining room,” said Charity Wilson, a policy analyst for the AFL-CIO, an umbrella federation for 54 U.S. unions.

She said employers take advantage of this upper hand. “They are as responsible for this, more than the recently arrived workers,” she said.

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