For Hispanics in New England Employment Has Ups and Downs

THE number of employed Hispanics in New England has grown dramatically over the past decade, increasing nearly 75 percent from 1985 to 1990, according to a report recently released by the US Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.In the past year, employment of Hispanics grew by 2.9 percent, making it the only demographic group to make employment gains that year, according to the report. "It's a very strong trend," says Mary Sullivan, Labor Department regional economist in Boston. The reason for the growth is that large numbers of Hispanics migrated to New England during the 1980s when the regional economy was booming. Many came from the Dominican Republic and Central America, attracted by the area's low unemployment and high wages, says Andrew Sum, an economist at Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies. Most ended up in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

Occupational shifts While most of the region's Hispanic work force is concentrated in either service occupations or factory-related jobs, the population has made gains in white-collar fields. Since 1985, Hispanics made up only 2.9 percent of executive, administrative, and managerial positions in New England, while in 1990 that percentage increased to 7.5 percent. Those gains are countered by the high unemployment Hispanics also experienced during the past few years of the recession. In addition, they are working in low-paying, unskilled labor such as office cleaning or factory jobs, say labor economists. In Boston, while Hispanics are the city's fastest-growing minority, they also have the highest poverty rate of any other ethnic group, according to a 1989 report by the Boston Foundation, an organization that helps nonprofit groups receive grants. For the first six months of this year, the jobless rate for Hispanics in Massachusetts averaged 17.6 percent, while in the late 1980s the annual unemployment rate was around 5 to 7 percent, according to data from Northeastern's Center for Labor Market Studies. One reason is that many Hispanics work in manufacturing, a sector that has performed poorly in the recession, says economist Sum. "They were in an industry that made them sensitive to the downturn in the state economy," he says. Hispanics account for only 2.8 percent of New England's work force, but 7.7 percent of the nationwide labor force, according to the Labor Department report. It predicts Hispanics will make up 10 percent of the country's labor force by the year 2000.

More growth ahead Social policy experts say the region isn't prepared to handle the new Hispanic labor force. For one thing, job training and language programs are limited due to federal and state budget cutbacks. In addition, employers lack training programs and need to rethink job-hiring practices, say Hispanic groups. "One thing that employers should absolutely do is to seriously look at job requirements," says Jaime Talero, executive director of Oficina Hispana, an employment and economic development agency. "Does a data-entry clerk need to speak English at the native-speaking level? .... If I am an engineer in the Dominican Republic, why am I a dishwasher in Boston?" Paul Osterman, a professor of human resources and management at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says regional employers need to be ready for a diverse labor force. "Employers are better prepared now than they were five to 10 years ago," Mr. Osterman says. "But I think we have a long way to go."

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