For organizations active in Hispanic workforce development, such as the Center for Latino Progress in Hartford, it comes as no surprise that there is a significant disparity between what Latinos and other Americans earn. These nonprofit entities work hard to overcome this problem every day.
The extent of this wage gap and the breadth of the challenge to be overcome was recently quantified by the Alliance for a Just Society in a report entitled “Equity in the Balance.” Essentially, what this national network of organizations focusing on health, racial and economic issues found is that the pay disparity between the Hispanics and non-Hispanics is enormous in Connecticut.
What the report provides is “cold, hard evidence of inequities” that can be described as “economic racism,” said Ben Henry, one of its Seattle-based authors. Structural inequities need to be addressed to level the playing field, he said.
For example, the Alliance determined that a single person with a 40-hour-per week job, so-called full employment, needs to earn $19.08 dollars an hour, or more than twice the state-mandated minimum wage, just to cover basic expenses. About a third of the state’s Latinos in this category earn that much compared to two-thirds of non-Hispanics, and this is the grouping where Hispanics fare the best.
While the Alliance’s report can be seen as sounding a sour note, it also appears to serve as a clarion call for Latino activists and does not drown out their can-do attitude.
Yanil Teron, executive director of the Center for Latino Progress, said her initial reaction to these findings is, “we have work to do.” Moreover, these harsh numbers also reinforce, she said, the need to find “what we can do.”
Among the barriers Hispanics, particularly newer arrivals, need to overcome is learning English and gaining recognition for credentials earned outside the United States. Some immigrants may be professionals or hold technical degrees in the countries they have left, but end up working in other, lower-paying jobs here.
Another part of the challenge is to provide Latinos with an opportunity to learn trades applicable to the job market, Teron said. At its Park Street location, the Center for Latino Progress is teaching Latinos the skills and the vocabulary that fit the context of available jobs.
Among these programs is one that prepares about 30 Hispanics a year to work in the “green” energy sector through its Energized Customer Service Program. This training includes learning the related vocabulary and technology appropriate for work in a call center. Also, the Latinos who take the class receive support, such as child care so they can attend, get paid internships and earn customer service certification.
Meanwhile, the Hispanic Federation, whose network of nonprofit agencies in Connecticut includes the Center for Latino Progress, is addressing the wage gap issue on a broader level. Having upped its commitment to Connecticut last year, this New York-based organization is seeking to improve conditions for a fast-growing statewide Hispanic community that now numbers more than 500,000 residents.
In its fall 2014 policy blueprint, the Federation lays out an extensive agenda for economic empowerment for Connecticut Latinos. This “Call to Action” includes urging the state to expand workforce development to match growing industries, including health care, and to diversify the state government workforce.
This is the first year that the Alliance for a Just Society has provided statistical evidence that underscores the Federation’s efforts, although this foundation-funded organization has assembled living wage reports, primarily for the Pacific Northwest, since 1999, with Connecticut added in 2013. The current report is the first in which the Alliance’s findings were broken down for categories such as gender, race, ethnicity and citizenship.
The Alliance’s interest in Connecticut was sparked by an awareness that the state has a significant immigrant population and the status of the Latinos had not been studied much, according to Henry. In addition, he said, one of the Alliance affiliates, the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, also was interested in this information.
The timing of the report’s release, at the start of the holiday shopping season was not a coincidence. The Alliance wanted to drive home its message that the current structure of the American pay system makes it difficult for minorities, women and especially Hispanics, to get by, let alone participate in the annual buying splurge.
The Alliance based its analysis on what a 40-hour-a-week job would have pay to cover basic living costs, which include some savings, but not debt payments or items like Internet service.
The “glass half empty” side of the story is that only 42 percent of Latino full-time workers in the United States earn a wage that allows a single adult to make ends meet, compared to 61 percent for all Americans.
The glass is almost empty when it comes to the gap between wages and the cost of living for Connecticut Latinos, particularly for households comprised of two adults, one who works, and two children. The Alliance determined that it takes an income of more than $1,400 a week or $35.18 per hour just to meet the basics. Only 9 percent of Latino households in Connecticut make this cut.
The picture is even more dire for a single adult households with two children because of child care costs. In that case, only 6 percent of Latinos achieve the wage goal of $40.48.
There is a “glass half full” side of the story which comes from the nature of the Latinos themselves. For one thing, as a group, Hispanics, especially those for whom Spanish is the dominant language, are more optimistic about the America and the economy than the general population according to a 2012 study by Ipsos, a market research company.
Moreover, the study found that Latinos are more likely to have a clear sense of their goals and to be inspired by the American Dream and believe it is very alive.
Latinos are optimistic they can make it here, and certainly that their children will, Teron said. “Otherwise, they would not live here,” she said.