December 15, 2005

The Occupational Status and Mobility of Hispanics

I. Overview

This report summarizes the major findings of a research project sponsored by the Pew Hispanic Center. The research was conducted by Maude Toussaint- Comeau of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Thomas Smith of the University of Illinois- Chicago, and Ludovic Comeau, Jr. of DePaul University. Their paper is titled “Occupational Attainment and Mobility of Hispanics in a Changing Economy” and a copy is available at the Web site of the Pew Hispanic Center ( The full report should be consulted for additional analysis and further details on the findings discussed in this summary report.

Hispanics and whites perform different types of work in the labor market.1 Moreover, the occupational divide between the two largest segments of the labor force appears to be widening. The occupations in which Hispanics are concentrated rank low in wages, educational requirements and other indicators of socioeconomic status. Those indicators also show a worsening in the occupational status of Latinos and a growing gap with respect to whites during the 1990s. That is surprising because the decade was witness to the longest economic expansion in recent U.S. history. But even as unemployment was on the decline for all racial and ethnic groups, structural shifts in employment across industries contributed to a greater division in the occupational status of Hispanics and whites.

These findings emerge from a research project sponsored by the Pew Hispanic Center to examine the occupational status and mobility of Hispanic workers. The study focuses on the 1990 to 2000 time period and uses data from three sources—the Census Bureau, the University of Michigan, and the National Science Foundation. Comparisons of occupational status over time and across groups of workers are facilitated by the development of a composite indicator that assigns a score to each occupation based on its experience and education requirements. Another tool developed for the study is the Dissimilarity Index that provides a measure of the difference in occupational distributions across groups of workers. Utilizing these and other analytical tools, the report presents a rich array of conclusions regarding the occupational distribution of Hispanics, its diversity across country-of-origin groups, changes in the distribution over time, the factors that influence the speed of those changes, and the status of Latinos relative to whites and other racial and ethnic groups.

The key findings of the study are as follows:

  1. The terms Hispanic and Latino are used interchangeably, and references to other racial and ethnic groups are to their non-Hispanic elements only.