Hard times for Latino construction

Dan Grech Feb 27, 2008

Hard times for Latino construction

Dan Grech Feb 27, 2008


Doug Krizner: Later this morning, we’ll get the numbers on new home sales for January. It’s likely we’ll see more evidence of a building industry still in the dumps.

Just a year ago, this business was a goldmine, especially for Latino construction workers. Two out of every three new construction jobs were filled by Hispanics. Cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Miami became meccas for tens of thousands of recently arrived immigrants. So how are they biding their time these days? From the Americas Desk at WLRN in Miami, we sent Marketplace’s Dan Grech to find out.

Dan Grech: At its height, the construction industry employed 1 in 4 Hispanic workers. That’s 3 million people with well-paying jobs — 3 million families that could, for perhaps the first time, aspire to some middle-class comforts. What a difference a year makes.

Rakesh Kochhar is a researcher with the Pew Hispanic Center:

Rakesh Kochhar: The construction sector went from being a leading contributor to employment growth to a leading source of unemployment. Whatever gains they had appear to have been wiped away in the space of this past year.

Homestead is a sprawling bedroom community near Miami. When the economy was healthy, Homestead was the fastest growing city of its size in the nation, and a magnet for Hispanic laborers. Now, it’s a way station for ex-construction workers like Tomas Diaz.

Diaz laid floors and built roofs for $14 an hour — enough to get married and start a family. Now, he now cuts lawns for $8 an hour.

Diaz (voice of interpreter): I don’t know what to do with all these bills that keep coming month after month. You start to think, do I pay this bill, or do I buy food?

Many ex-construction workers in Homestead have turned to farm work. Others are day laborers or landscapers.

Hector Sales manages a run-down apartment building on the edge of town. He spent a recent morning trying to salvage some old electric coil ovens. The building once teemed with workers. Now, it’s almost empty.

Jonathan Fried runs We Count!, a Homestead community organization:

Jonathan Fried: People need to move to survive. And if they don’t find work here, they’re gonna move elsewhere.

Pew’s Rakesh Kochhar says some Hispanics are getting a new start.

Kochhar: One small surprise is the growth of Hispanic employment in education and health services — more white-collar work.

Kochhar says Hispanics often work the lowest paying jobs in those industries. Still, there are opportunities to move up.

In Homestead, I’m Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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