Hispanics Hit Hard As Workers Lose Hours, More Full Time Jobs Turn Part-Time

Hispanics Hit Hard As Workers Lose Hours
More Full-Time Jobs Turn Part-Time

By Alejandro Lazo
The Washington Post, September 1, 2008

With the economy in the grip of a slowdown, American workers are increasingly losing full-time work to part-time employment, and the trend is particularly pronounced among Hispanics, contributing to the tough economic times hitting the nation's largest minority group.

Gustavo Alvarez, a 33-year-old U.S. citizen who spent most of his life in Argentina, took a part-time job cleaning a six-story Rockville office building in April when he could not find full-time work after being laid off from a Silver Spring construction company.

For Alvarez, that meant fewer hours at about half of the $20 per hour he used to pull in, as well as the loss of benefits and health insurance. He cut back on groceries and money sent home to his wife in Buenos Aires. He struggled to pay his rent and bills. Until three weeks ago, when he found a second part-time job cleaning another office building, his monthly income was about $700.

'When I received my first paycheck that said that in 15 days I had received 300-and-something dollars, I died,' Alvarez said. 'I swear to you, I wanted to cry when I saw that check.'

Full-time work often becomes scarce during an economic slowdown as companies cut back on expenses. A total of 5.3 million Americans who want full-time work held part-time jobs at the end of the second quarter, an increase of about 22 percent from the same period last year, according to the Labor Department.

'That is a robust number,' said Steve Hipple, an economist at the department.

About 3.6 million involuntary part-time workers had their hours cut from full-time because of a slowdown in business. An additional 1.4 million took part-time work because they could not find a full-time job. Specific data on the Washington area was not available.

Hispanics make up a disproportionate number of workers who hold part-time jobs but want full-time work. While they are only about 14 percent of the U.S. labor force, they represent 33 percent of people who shifted from full-time to involuntary part-time work in the year ended June 30. Because more than half of Hispanic workers are immigrants and are more likely to be young and less skilled, they are more susceptible to economic cycles, said Harry J. Holzer, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University and a former chief economist at the Labor Department.

'Any business that feels pressure to cut costs is going to look at which workers are expendable and, of course, the workers that are usually the most expendable are the least skilled and the most recently hired,' Holzer said. 'Immigrants are going to be more than proportionately concentrated there.'

Hispanics also tend to work in industries that have had some of the biggest increases in involuntary part-time jobs over the past year. About 26 percent of these jobs were in construction, 15 percent in wholesale and retail trade, and 11.5 percent in professional and business services, according to the Labor Department.

In the Washington area, the service industry is the biggest employer for immigrants from Latin America, retaining about 33 percent of that workforce, according to an analysis by Audrey Singer, a senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. The study analyzes 2006 Census data, the most recent available.

Ana Margarita Pineda, a 30-year-old immigrant from El Salvador and a single mother, said that about five months ago, her hours were reduced from full-time to about 25 hours a week at the Adams Morgan office of MaidPro, a home-cleaning chain.

'I could not buy new clothes for my daughter, take her out to go to Chuck E. Cheese, go to the beach, do the things that we used to do just one year ago because there is no income like before,' Pineda said.

Pineda said she was laid off last week.

The construction industry employs about 24 percent of Latin American workers in Washington, according to Singer's analysis.

Job losses in that industry have hit Hispanic workers particularly hard. A report by the Pew Hispanic Center found that the slump in the construction industry was a key factor in a spike in unemployment among Hispanics. The construction industry has also seen the biggest increase over the last year in part-time positions for workers who would like to work full-time, adding some 249,000 part-time jobs, with about 234,000 of those attributed to the housing downturn.

The loss of full-time work is exacerbating other economic problems for Hispanics. Of the 50 people who most recently sought foreclosure counseling from Latino Economic Development Corp. in the District, 22 cited a reduction in income as a reason they needed help, the group said.

'For those who have full-time employment, their hours are being cut. For those who have part-time employment, they are being let go,' said Wendy Alvarenga, a senior housing counselor with the group. 'It's affecting their mortgage payments because they are not making what they were once making.'