Rising black-Latino clash on jobs
From where Johnny Blair Vaughn sits outside Lucy Florence Coffee House in the heart of Los Angeles's black community, he can feel the temperature rising over immigration.Skip to next paragraph
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The biggest reason, says the father of seven, is jobs.
"If you drive across this city, you will see 99 percent of all construction is being done by Hispanics.... You will see no African-American males on these sites, and that is a big change," says Mr. Vaughn, who has worked in construction for two decades. His two oldest boys, in their early 20s, have been turned down so many times for jobs - as framers, roofers, cement layers - that they no longer apply, he says.
While Los Angeles is ground zero for black-Hispanic friction these days, echoes of Vaughn's words are rising throughout urban black America as Congress labors over immigration reform. In cities where almost half of the young black men are unemployed, a debate is raging over whether Latinos - undocumented and not - are elbowing aside blacks for jobs in stores, restaurants, hotels, manufacturing plants, and elsewhere.
Hispanics and blacks tend to gravitate to the same inner-city areas and low-skill labor markets - and the result is a clash over jobs that require less skill and less education, experts say.
"In this era of mass immigration, no group has benefited less or been harmed more than the African-American population," says Vernon Briggs, a Cornell University professor who researches immigration policy and the American labor force.
Yet a precise relationship between the presence of immigrants and the loss of black jobs has not been clearly proven in research. Rather, the influx of legal and illegal immigrants has been so massive that it has affected the internal migration of native-born Americans to the point where "economists have given up trying to prove a one-to-one-displacement," says Dr. Briggs.
Some Latino groups, meanwhile, counter that such a correlation is more a perception than a reality.
"We are fighting ... hearsay and opinion," says Randy Jurado Ertll, a Hispanic educational consultant and director of El Centro de Acción Social, Inc., a community service organization in Pasadena, Calif. "Blacks say, 'Hey a Latino immigrant came and took my job,' and some Latinos say, 'Blacks have all the jobs at the post office or city hall and don't want to give jobs to Latinos.' "
Statistics show that young African-Americans are having trouble in the job market. Unemployment among young blacks nationwide is 40 percent, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "For blacks, the growing presence of immigrant workers adds to the formidable obstacles they face in finding a job," said a Pew Research Center study released in April. Among blacks, 78 percent say jobs are difficult to find in their community compared to only 55 percent of Hispanics.
Many economists disagree that immigration is the reason black unemployment is high. Instead, shrinking budgets for job training and creation, industry downsizing and manufacturing flight to foreign countries are to blame.
Yet the perception that Hispanic immigrant workers are pushing blacks aside in the job market is evident in many cities with a high black population including Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington, and Denver, Briggs says.
"Latinos and blacks are at each others' throats in our jails and in our high schools," says Najee Ali, an activist based in Chicago and Los Angeles.
Mr. Ali notes that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had to intervene after several high school brawls broke out between Hispanics and blacks in recent months. Riots in the Los Angeles County Jail - the nation's largest - came about in part because of tensions on the streets between black and Hispanic gangs, observers say.
"Undocumented immigration that is taking jobs from blacks is the number one issue nationwide. Unless we address it, the same kind of eruptions we are seeing in Los Angeles will jump to these other cities as Latino populations increase there," he says.
Others point out that tensions between blacks and Hispanics are not new and are not tied solely to immigration. They also result from a competition for housing, education, and healthcare due to the sheer number of Latinos - they are the largest and fastest-growing minority group. Hispanics' increasing political clout as well as recent immigrants-rights demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands Hispanic immigrants in dozens of cities have roiled many in the black community.