REPORT: The Latino Labor Force in the Recovery

At nearly 23 million, people of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity represented 15 percent of the U.S. labor force in 2011.1By 2020, Latinos are expected to comprise 19 percent of the U.S. labor force.

In 2011, 58.9 percent of Latinos aged 16 and over were employed and just under 1 in 5 of those employed was working part-time. Women comprised 41 percent of all Latinos in the labor force in 2011, compared to 46 percent among the white labor force.2 Women represent a smaller share of the Latino labor force both because of the high labor force participation of Latino men and the lower labor force participation rate of Latina women when compared to Whites.3

Employed Latinos are much less likely to have a college degree than are either Whites or African Americans.4 Approximately one in six employed Latinos aged 25 and over have completed a bachelor’s degree, less than half the proportion among employed Whites. Since 2000, this gap in the share of employed Latinos and Whites who are college graduates has widened. Between 2000 and 2011, the gap between employed Whites with a college education and employed Latinos with a college education grew from 17.6 percentage points to 20.1 percentage points.

Latinos are more likely than either Whites or African Americans to be employed in the private sector, with more than 8 in 10 employed Latinos working in the private sector, not including the unincorporated self-employed. Conversely, Latinos are less likely to work for government than are either Whites or African Americans.

In 2011, 5.8 percent of Latinos were self-employed compared to 7.2 percent among Whites. The lower self-employment among Latinos is partly attributed to lower educational attainment and to less access to financial wealth.5 However, according to the most recent Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners (2007), Latino-owned businesses were the fastest growing small business sector prior to the recession, expanding at nearly twice the rate of the national average between 2002 and 2007. In fact, the entry rate of Latinos into self-employment compares favorably to that of non-Latino Whites and their entry rate is even higher than that of Whites in low-barrier sectors. The main problem is that Latinos tend to have lower success rates with their new businesses and exit self-employment at a higher rate than Whites.6

Half of Latinos working full-time earned at least $549 per week in 2011. This median weekly wage was only 71 percent of that earned by Whites. This gap in earning has been largely stable over the recession and recovery period. Some of the wage differences between Latinos and non-Latinos can be explained by the usual differences in education and other standard worker characteristics, such as experience and certain demographic characteristics. However, part of the wage gap between Latinos and non-Latinos is due to factors specific to immigrant populations such as language proficiency or time since arrival.7

Source: United States Department of Labor