May 2, 2005

Latino Labor Report, 2004

VII. The Occupational Concentration of Hispanic Workers

The preceding sections have made clear that newly arrived immigrants played a major role in the growth of the labor force and the number employed in 2004. It was also shown that Hispanic workers, the majority of whom are foreign-born, are grouped into relatively low-skill occupations with limited education requirements. But what specifically are these occupations? Are immigrants concentrated in niche occupations that are not populated by the native born? Using annual data for 2004, this section probes these questions by looking at the employment of foreign-born Hispanic workers in finely detailed occupations. It is shown that Latino immigrants alone account for nearly 40 percent or more of workers in several occupations. However, the occupations with high concentrations of foreign-born Latino workers are generally not significant sources of jobs for native-born workers.

Signs of concentration among foreign-born Latinos are evident even in their distribution across broadly defined industries and occupations. Nearly 55 percent of immigrant Hispanic workers were employed in just four industries in 2004—construction, wholesale and retail trade, professional and other business services, and eating, drinking and lodging services. In contrast, these same four industries employed 40 percent of all native-born workers (see Table 6). The most important industry for immigrant Latinos is construction. In 2004, 17 percent of foreignborn Hispanics worked in construction in comparison with only 7.2 percent of native-born workers.11

Latino immigrants also tended to work in different occupations in 2004. For example, more than 13 percent of foreign-born Hispanics were employed in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations compared with only 2.9 percent of native-born workers (Table 5). On the other hand, only 4 percent of Latino immigrants are in management occupations, less than one-half the rate of 11 percent for native-born workers. Foreign-born Hispanics are best represented in construction and production occupations—16.3 percent and 14 percent respectively. Native-born workers are most likely to be found in white-collar occupations, such as, management, sales, and administrative support.

The concentration of Latino immigrants in certain occupations suggests that they may be filling demand in niche occupations that engage few other workers. This issue is explored further in two ways in Table 7 below. The Census Bureau, when collecting labor force data in the Current Population Survey, classifies the work people do at their jobs into approximately 500 detailed occupations. One indication of the demand for Hispanic immigrants is their share of employment in any one of those detailed occupations. The labor market employed 9.8 million Latino immigrants in 2004. That amounted to 7 percent of the total employment of 139.5 million.12 Thus, an occupational niche for Hispanic immigrants might be said to exist if their share in the employment of an occupation was well in excess of 7 percent. An alternative approach is to simply focus on occupations that employ the highest number of immigrant Latino workers. Unusually high numbers of foreign-born workers in a few occupations would also be suggestive of high demand for them in those types of work.

Table 7 shows the occupations with the highest concentrations of foreign-born Hispanic workers. There are two groups of occupations in the table. The first group shows the 20 occupations in which Latino immigrants held the highest share of employment in 2004.13 The data show that nearly one out of every two plasterers and stucco masons is a foreign-born Latino. Latino immigrants also accounted for at least 40 percent on employment in the following occupations: pressers, textile garments and related materials; drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers; and miscellaneous agricultural workers. In the lowest of the 20 occupations ranked by employment share in Table 7—helpers, construction trades—foreign-born Latinos held a 28 percent share. That is four times greater than their share of total employment in the economy.

The 20 occupations in which immigrant Latinos have high shares of employment also provide jobs for significant numbers of Latinos. As shown in Table 7, these occupations employed a total of 2.6 million Latino immigrants, or 27 percent of all foreign-born Hispanic workers in 2004. But these occupations do not employ a significant number of native-born workers. Only 4 percent of all native-born workers, and 6 percent of native-born Hispanics, were employed in these occupations in 2004 (data not shown in table). Another characteristic of these occupations is that they require low levels of skill and education. Only one occupation— insulation workers—requires anything beyond a high school education and skill requirements can be generally met with short-term or moderate on-the-job training. In sum, the 20 occupations in which Latinos have high shares of employment, and which may fairly be regarded as niche occupations for foreign-born Latinos, are low-skill occupations that are not significant sources of jobs for native-born workers.

Occupations in which foreign-born Hispanics have the largest shares of employment are not necessarily the ones in which large numbers of them are employed. Table 7 also shows the 20 occupations in which the greatest numbers of immigrant Latinos have secured jobs. The top two occupations are maids and housekeeping cleaners and grounds maintenance workers. These two occupations employ 872,000 foreign-born Latinos, or nearly 9 percent of all foreign-born Hispanic workers. The two lists in Table 7 share seven occupations. These are occupations with high numbers of foreign-born Latinos who also make up at least 28 percent of employment in the occupation. Collectively, these seven occupations employ slightly more than 2 million foreignborn Latinos, or 20 percent of all immigrant Hispanics. But in the remaining 13 occupations with high numbers of immigrant Hispanics, Latinos do not necessarily have high shares of employment. In particular, foreign-born Hispanic workers have below average shares, i.e. less than a 7 percent share, in the following five occupations: cashiers; retail salespersons; waiters and waitresses; first-line supervisors/managers of retail sales workers; and nursing, psychiatric and home health aides. These occupations account for 698,000 foreign-born Latinos, or 7 percent of their total employment.

The 20 occupations with the highest numbers of foreign-born Latinos employ 4.7 million of them and make up 48 percent of their total employment. These occupations also employ many native-born workers—25.7 million— accounting for 22 percent of their total employment (data not shown). Thus, these are occupations with high levels of overall employment and they attract significant numbers of all workers. Some of these may be considered niche occupations for foreign-born Latinos but in many others they have low employment shares. In general, these occupations also require relatively low levels of skills, mostly in the form of short-term to moderate on-the-job training. Roughly one-half do require some college education but only two of these occupations employ significant numbers of college-educated workers.

In sum, the analysis in this section shows that Hispanic immigrants and native-born workers often satisfy demands for different types of work. Most foreign-born Latino workers are engaged in occupations with minimal training and education requirements. They also account for high shares of employment in several occupations, indicating especially high demand for them in certain lines of work. But occupations with very high concentrations of Latino immigrants are not important sources of employment for native-born workers.

  1. It is worth noting that the industry distributions of immigrant Hispanic workers differ from the distributions of their native-born counterparts. For example, only 7.8 percent of native-born Hispanics are employed in construction. Overall, native-born Hispanic workers are spread across industries in a manner that more closely resembles other native-born workers than immigrant Latino and Asian workers.
  2. These data were compiled by the Pew Hispanic Center from the Current Population Survey.
  3. In order to diminish the impact of anomalies caused by small sample sizes, the occupations in this list are restricted to those with a total employment of at least 25,000 workers in 2004. This led to the exclusion of the following three occupations which would have made the list based on employment share alone: textile cutting machine setters, operators and tenders; plating and coating machine setters, operators and tenders, metal and plastic; and mining and geological engineers, including mining safety engineers.