Hispanic women slower to join labor force
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Medill News Service)” It took Carolina Walters Espinoza nearly 10 years after coming to the United States from Venezuela to feel valued in the workplace, she says.
The degree she earned in marketing back home didn’t have the same clout in the states. Language interfered with her ability to get into her chosen field. And low wages disheartened her.
“It made me feel completely underappreciated, because I wasn’t working any less than my counterparts,” said Espinoza, who works for the Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “It affects your self-esteem. It affects your motivation.”
The barriers Espinoza had to overcome may be deterring other Hispanic women from entering the workforce, experts in the field said.
According to a report released last week by an advocacy group, the National Council of La Raza, Hispanic women have the lowest labor force participation rate of all major U.S. racial and ethnic groups.
“The tragedy is that Hispanic women continue to be in the same place they’ve been for at least 30 years,” said Polly Baca, chief executive of the Latin American Research and Service Agency in Denver. “There hasn’t been any progress.”
Baca attributes the inertia to the cost of higher education, which makes it impossible for many Hispanic women to earn degrees. According to the La Raza study, in 2004, 41.8 percent of all Hispanic women age 15 to 64 did not even have high school diplomas.
Lower levels of education and poor English-language skills can lead many Hispanic women to the service sector, where they accept lower paying jobs that don’t usually offer health insurance, said Misha Werschkul, research associate for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in D.C.
According to La Raza, a Hispanic-American advocacy group in Washington, in 2004 the median hourly wage for Hispanic women was $9.04 per hour, compared to $10.21 for white women, $9.93 for black women and $10.57 for Asian-Americans.
In 2001, only 38.8 percent of Hispanic women had employer-provided group health insurance in their own names.
Discrimination in the workforce may also deter women from seeking jobs, Werschkul said.
“All women workers face discrimination,” she said. “When you pile racial and ethnic discrimination on that, it’s a huge factor for why women don’t go into it.”
Legislators need to help Hispanic women get access to education and higher-paying jobs, said Carmen Carillo, executive director of Mi Casa Resource Center for Women in Denver. This includes assisting with day care, health insurance and education, Carillo said.
“It’s an ever-present need,” she said. “The women are the working poor and they absolutely need, not a handout, but a hand up.”
Megan Elliot, an employment policy advisor at La Raza, said the most important part of the report is the significant affect Hispanic women have on the economy.
According to 2003 Census data, median incomes of married-couple Hispanic families were 85.2 percent higher when the wife was in the paid labor force.
“Our main priority is always our family,” said Espinoza, who just began her job at the Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as the director of marketing. “So it doesn’t matter what the stats say, we’ll strive to be part of the workforce, successful and appreciated.”
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