December 15, 2005

The Occupational Status and Mobility of Hispanics

VIII. Conclusions

This report has highlighted the stark differences in the occupational distributions and socioeconomic status of Hispanic and white workers. Hispanics are concentrated in lowwage occupations with minimal educational requirements and poor socioeconomic status. The record economic expansion of the 1990s did little to lessen the gap between Hispanics and whites. In fact, the opposite happened: the occupational distribution and status of Hispanics and whites grew even further apart during the 1990s. That was a consequence of a shift in the structure of employment across industries that affected the two groups of workers differentially. Thus, the recent gains in employment of Latino workers have not translated into improvements in their occupational status.

Hispanics are much more likely to work in farming, construction and production occupations than in professional occupations. The main exception to this rule is workers from Cuba. But this trait is highly characteristic of Mexican workers and is reinforced by immigration. Many immigrants from Mexico initially lack English-language skills and are unlikely to have a college education. Not surprisingly, Mexican workers are the dominant group among farm workers.

The Dissimilarity Index, a quantitative measure of the difference in occupational distributions, shows that about 20 percent of Hispanic workers would have to change occupations to match the occupational profile of white workers. This figure rises to 30 percent when Hispanic immigrant workers are compared with white workers. The leading cause of this disparity is the gap in educational attainment. The dissimilarity in occupational distributions is much smaller when comparisons are drawn only across college educated workers or only across high school educated workers. However, both in absolute terms and relative to whites, Hispanic workers are much less likely to have a college degree and that drives the overall disparity in the occupational distributions.

This study also devised a measure that can be used to measure the socioeconomic status of an occupation. On a scale of 0 to 100, the average score across all occupations is estimated to be 35. More than half of Latino workers are found to be working in occupations with socioeconomic status scores below 30. Many of those workers are employed in building and grounds cleaning, food preparation and serving, and farming, fishing and forestry. These three occupations score below 20 in socioeconomic status. White workers, on the other hand, are concentrated in occupations with above average scores. Over one-quarter of whites are employed in occupations with a socioeconomic status score of at least 45. These, typically, are occupations in managerial, professional, scientific and technical fields.

The leading determinants of occupational attainment are education and experience. For immigrants, English-language skills and time spent acquiring U.S. labor market experience also contribute to higher socioeconomic status. A college degree is found to boost the socioeconomic status of a worker by 40 percent over the score attained by high school graduates. The boost received by college-educated Mexican immigrants, albeit substantial, is less than average, suggesting that the labor market places lesser value on foreign schooling. Immigrant workers could also raise their occupational attainment scores by overcoming any English-language deficiencies they may have.

…most foreign-born Hispanic workers are unlikely to assimilate to full parity with white workers.

The analysis also finds that years spent acquiring experience in the U.S. labor market do make a difference but that most foreign-born Hispanic workers are unlikely to assimilate to full parity with white workers. Notably, the occupational attainment of immigrant cohorts appears to have slipped over time. The more recently arrived immigrants are further behind in occupational attainment than previously arrived cohorts. Factors that may have contributed to this phenomenon include changes in the regional origin of immigrants and the shift in immigration laws to favor family reunification.

A more detailed examination of the experience of college educated workers shows that Hispanics are more likely to change occupations than other workers within a five-year period. The greater likelihood of change extends to moves in both the upward and downward directions as measured by the socioeconomic status score. Even within the ranks of the college educated, the level and type of education is found to matter. Hispanics with post-graduate college education and tenure in U.S. schools are less likely to change occupations. Arrival date and language skills of immigrants also make a difference. Recent arrivals and immigrants who do not speak English have a very high probability of switching occupations and employers within five years. Overall, the process of assimilation for Latino immigrants, described here as the acquisition of U.S. labor market experience and finding the right match for their skills, involves a high rate of occupation and employer turnover in the early years even for the college-educated.