While the economic recovery is improving the nation's employment prospects, Hispanics need more help finding jobs, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.
Compared with Anglos and African-Americans, Hispanics have a higher-than-average unemployment rate, less education and higher rate of on-the-job fatalities, according to the report titled "The Hispanic Labor Force in the Recovery."
"We know more needs to be done to get Hispanics back to work," Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said during a conference call with reporters Thursday. She said the report was a fitting tribute to the late farm worker and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, whose 84th birthday would have been Thursday.
Solis also announced that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has agreed to suspend worksite immigration investigations for sites where the Labor Department is investigating labor disputes over wages and hours, family and medical leave, discrimination, and health and safety. The agreement was part of a memorandum of understanding between the Labor Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
The agreement will protect workers during wage theft and other investigations, Solis said.
Laura Boston, director of the nonprofit Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center, which advocates for low-wage workers, applauded the agreement.
In at least two instances she handled recently, workers were deported shortly after they filed complaints of workplace abuse, said Boston. One involved charges of sex harassment and race discrimination and another was payment of wages, including overtime.
"We never knew whether the companies called immigration officials or whether it was by chance," Boston said. "The employer is never held responsible if the worker is deported and isn't there to testify."
According to the Labor Department report, the average 2010 unemployment rate for Hispanic workers was 12.5 percent, compared with 8.7 percent for white workers and 16 percent for black workers.
On the plus side, unemployed Hispanics spend fewer weeks looking for work than whites or blacks. And a lower proportion of Hispanics are counted as long-term jobless, which the Labor Department defines as 27 weeks or longer.
One reason Hispanics lag behind other workers is that unemployment rates are closely tied to education levels.
Workers with bachelor's degrees or higher had an average unemployment rate of 6 percent in 2010, while workers without high school diplomas had a rate of 13.2 percent.
Hispanics at least age 25 who have jobs are significantly less likely to have college diplomas than either blacks or Anglos, according to the report. The proportion is 16.9 percent for Hispanics, 36.1 percent for Anglos and 26 percent for blacks, the Labor Department said.
To encourage more Hispanics to find good jobs, the department recommends enrolling more of them in government-sponsored job-training programs for low-income and at-risk youth; providing training opportunities in energy efficiency and renewable energy industries; and encouraging more Hispanics to pursue careers in engineering, technology and science.
Since Hispanics work disproportionately in high-risk industries such as construction, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is beefing up its outreach to improve health and safety on the job. According to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hispanic workers had the highest rate of work-related fatalities in 2009.
The department's wage and hour division is also putting more resources into taking action on companies that misclassify their employees as independent contractors to avoid paying Social Security and unemployment taxes, overtime and minimum wages.
"Misclassification more frequently occurs in industries that employ a large number of vulnerable workers, many of whom are of Hispanic or Latino origin," according to the report.
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