The job market for Latinos in Minnesota has improved dramatically in the last year, a sign that the state’s economy continues to strengthen even as stagnant wages remain a challenge.
Latino unemployment is now below the state’s overall jobless rate, helped by the growth of service jobs and a boom in construction.
The $1 billion Vikings stadium and Wells Fargo towers in Minneapolis, sprawling CityPlace in Woodbury and thousands of apartment units around the region are driving demand for all kinds of construction workers.
Latinos, who account for 5 percent of Minnesota’s population, were hit hard by the economic downturn that began in 2008 and took years to unwind. In early 2010, Latino unemployment in the state peaked at 15.9 percent.
Many of the gains have been in construction, which has been shaped not just by massive projects but by the ultralow interest rate environment.
“2011 was a little better, 2012 better, 2013 much better and now we’re at the peak,” said Francisco Altamirano, a recruiter for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.
Member rolls at the painters union dropped by 30 percent during the recession, and most of those who lost their jobs were Latino.
Last Thursday, Altamirano signed up five drywall finishers at the union’s District Council 82 in Little Canada.
The men had just moved from Nebraska and had already found work at a 30-story tower in downtown Minneapolis when they filed into a conference room to join the union.
“In some cities, a $100 million or $60 million project is big news,” said Altamirano, a tall man who worked for years as a glazier. “Not here.”
According to the state’s latest estimate, Latino unemployment fell by half in the past 12 months, to 3.6 percent in July, below the state’s overall jobless rate of 4 percent.
By contrast, Minnesota’s black population has seen unemployment rise in the same period, to 15.6 percent from 10.7 percent. Black unemployment in the state peaked at 23.5 percent in early 2011.
State economists caution that estimates of unemployment by race and ethnicity are less precise than the overall unemployment number.
Beyond the data, the improving job environment for Latinos is felt more tangibly in how quickly people are getting hired. A manager at ICC Wireless on Lake Street in Minneapolis, which has a giant “Now Hiring/Tenemos Trabajo” sign over the front door, said she’s “always looking for people” and has 10 employees right now.
More Latinos are finding jobs because more have documents thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gives people who came to the U.S. illegally before they were 16 the chance for work authorization and deportation deferment. “They have documents now,” the manager said.
Jose Rojas, who was walking out of another shop on Lake Street, found a job as a landscaper a month ago. He mows lawns and plants trees all over the metro area — from Lakeville to Blaine — four days a week.
He said he wants to find a second job on the weekends.
“The economy is really good right now,” Rojas said. “I don’t think it’s hard to find a job.”
David Maldonado, who works for Pillsbury United Communities, said the group, which tries to help Latinos get jobs, is hearing from more employers who need workers.
“We’ve been noticing a lot more traffic. People are getting more placements,” Maldonado said.
Much of the action is at the group’s culinary arts program called Waite House, where people are trained for jobs at hotels and restaurants. There’s also demand for home health workers and grocery store employees.
Wages for many of these jobs, however, are not rising, and a lot of Latinos are working two part-time jobs because some employers believe it is more cost-efficient to maintain two part-time positions than one full-time, said John Richard, who works at Waite House.
“The business climate is good and there are many jobs out there. The other side of that coin is wages are not rising,” Richard said. “It’s still very difficult for people to raise a family, even with the increase in the minimum wage.”
Stagnant wages and part-time openings are hallmarks of Minnesota’s labor market in general.
Though the number of job vacancies in Minnesota grew to 98,000 in July, more than 40 percent of openings in the state are part-time.
These are the problems for Latinos, about 40 percent of whom live in poverty, said Grace Grinager, spokeswoman for Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio, which helps Latinos find jobs, and get the training for better jobs.
“The primary issue facing Latinos in the workforce isn’t unemployment,” Grinager said. “It is finding jobs that pay enough to get out of poverty.”