December 15, 2008

Latino Workers in the Ongoing Recession: 2007 to 2008

II. Introduction

This report focuses on economic outcomes for Hispanic and non-Hispanic workers during the ongoing recession. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the semiofficial arbiter of these dates, the U.S. economy entered a recession in December 2007. Earlier this year, the Pew Hispanic Center released a report that analyzed labor market developments for Latinos through the first quarter of 2008.2 That report showed that outcomes for Latino workers, such as the unemployment rate, had turned markedly worse during 2007, even prior to the recession.

A year into the recession, it is now feasible to update labor market outcomes through the third quarter of 2008. These outcomes are compared with the labor market status of workers in the third quarter of 2007.3 Developments over that one-year period provide a fuller understanding of the effects of the recession on Hispanic and non-Hispanic workers, as well as on native-born and foreign-born workers.

Prior to the onset of the recession in December 2007, Latino workers seemed to be feeling the brunt of the slump in the construction sector (Kochhar, 2008). Their unemployment rate had climbed sharply in 2007, much more so than for non-Hispanics. Moreover, the impact on foreign-born Hispanics had been especially hard. In the first quarter of 2008, the unemployment rate for foreign-born Latinos exceeded the rate for native-born Latinos. That was the first such occurrence since 2003.

The impact of the deepening recession is now pervasive as job losses and rising unemployment affect all workers. From the third quarter of 2007 to the third quarter of 2008, 1.7 million non-Hispanics, 287,000 native-born Hispanics and 239,000 foreign-born Hispanics are newly unemployed.

This report analyzes labor market outcomes for workers using a variety of indicators. Some labor market indicators, such as the working-age population (those 16 and older) and the size of the labor force (those either employed or actively seeking work), respond principally to demographic forces. For immigrants, economic forces may play a stronger role in shaping the working-age population and labor force by triggering changes in inflows and outflows of migrants. Tracking those indicators establishes the size of a racial or ethnic group in the labor market and whether its relative size is expanding or shrinking.

Working-Age Population, or the Workforce: The population of persons ages 16 and older.

Labor Force: Persons ages 16 and older who are employed or actively looking for work.

Employment Rate: Percentage of the working-age population that is employed or actively looking for work.

Labor Force Participation Rate: Percentage of the working-age population that is employed or actively looking for work.

Unemployment Rate: Percentage of the labor force that is without work and is actively looking for work.

Other important labor market indicators respond principally to economic developments. Those include employment levels and the employment, unemployment and labor force participation rates (see definitions in the text box). Tracking those indicators, along with estimating wages, is the key to understanding economic outcomes for workers.

The data for this report are derived from the Current Population Survey, a monthly survey of about 55,000 households conducted jointly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau. Data from three monthly surveys were combined to create larger sample sizes and to conduct the analysis on a quarterly basis.

This report is not able to identify immigrant workers by whether they are documented or undocumented because the immigration status of workers is not recorded in the source data. However, estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center show that unauthorized migrants account for about 5% of the U.S. labor force and about one-third of the foreign-born labor force. They are overrepresented in certain industries such as construction, where they account for 12% of employment (Passel, 2006). Most unauthorized migrants are from Latin American countries, with those from Mexico accounting for about 55% of the total.

The principal findings of the analysis, organized by major labor market indicators, are below. More detailed analysis and data are presented in subsequent sections and the appendices.

Working-Age Population

Labor Force


Unemployment and Job Losses


  1. Released in June 2008, this report focused on the impact of the construction slowdown on Latino workers (see Kochhar, 2008).
  2. Estimates in this report account for the annual revisions to the weights in the source data, the Current Population Survey. Details are provided in Appendix A.
  3. All tests of statistical significance in this report are conducted at the 90% level of confidence. If a number is not significantly different from zero, it means that there is a 90% chance the number lies within a range that encompasses zero.