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U.S. economic woes hit Latinos especially hard

By CLAUDIA TORRENS, Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK, August 4, 2008 (AP): After being fired by the restaurant where he worked as a cook for nine years, Ramon Pichardo does menial jobs to get by.

``I've looked for a job in many restaurants but they all tell me they don't need help or they can't hire me at this moment because business is slow,'' said the Dominican immigrant, who shares an apartment with two roommates to afford the $739 monthly rent in Manhattan's heavily Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights.

From New York to Ohio/Michigan to Los Angeles, the downturn in the U.S. economy is hitting Latinos especially hard, with unemployment rising faster in that community than in the overall U.S. population. And the slowdown has had a ripple effect, with a significant drop in payments being sent home to families in Latin America.

``For the last year, Hispanics have been losing jobs at a faster rate than any other group,'' said Agustine Martínez, president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

The U.S. Hispanic unemployment rate was 7.4 percent in July, compared to 5.7 percent for the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and experts blame the slumps in construction and manufacturing.

Their salaries are also stuck: Median earnings for Latinos who worked full-time during the first quarter of 2008 were $520 per week and $10.77 per hour. For the overall population, the comparable figures were $719 per week and $12.20 per hour. And the median earnings for Hispanics were nearly the same as last year, when food and gas prices were much lower.

Diana Rodríguez is another victim of the economic hard times.

The Dominican mother of two lost her job in February as a customer service representative and has been taking temporary jobs since then to be able to afford her $345 monthly rent in a subsidized apartment in the Bronx.

``I am willing to do whatever kind of job they offer me,'' said the 36-year-old Rodríguez, who is divorced. ``I did not think this would be this hard. Before it was easier to find a job.''

Now Rodríguez is thinking about moving to Oklahoma, where she has family and ``maybe it's easier to make a living.''

José Ortiz, a labor specialist at the Department of Labor in New York City, said his Harlem office was packed last week with Latino workers looking for jobs.

``The problem is that the manufacturing industry—above all, the textile industry—is disappearing. Now, jobs available are more technical and Latinos need training to find those jobs,'' Ortiz said. Workers at the center have seen a sharp jump in the number of people attending training classes in Spanish.

The slowdown has also meant that Hispanics are sending less money back home.

An Inter-American Development Bank poll of 5,000 Latin Americans living in the U.S. found in April that only 50 percent regularly sends money to their families, down from 73 percent in 2006.

Mexico's Central Bank said remittances to Mexico were expected to decline by up to 2 percent for 2008 as a whole over the previous year.

Catherine Singley, an analyst for the National Council of La Raza, noted that in addition to other economic woes, the mortgage crisis is taking its toll on the Hispanic community.

During La Raza's annual conference in San Diego, about 250 Latino families facing possible foreclosures attended the home fair the group organized with 30 housing counselors.

``We know that 2006 was the peak in Hispanic homeownership, with 49 percent. Since then, more and more Hispanics are losing their homes,'' she said.

The Hispanic business sector is also suffering, with revenues from the 2008 Hispanic Business 500 list sliding backward 0.6 percent to $36 billion. It is the first such dip since 2002, according to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.





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