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Inequality at Work: Hispanics in the U.S. Labor Force.

The number of articles and books focusing on Hispanic workers has increased rapidly over the last several years, reflecting the remarkable growth of the Hispanic labor force itself. Two of the more interesting and thoughtful of these are Hispanics in the Labor Force and Inequality at Work. In some ways, the books are quite similar. Both analyze aspects of inequality, including the lower average earnings and incomes of Hispanics, their higher incidence of poverty and unemployment, and their disproportionate representation in low-paid jobs. The books also pay particularly close attention to inequality among Hispanics, highlighting socioeconomic diversity by national origin.

At the same time, the books cover their subjects differently. Gregory DeFreitas' Inequality at Work discusses a narrower range of subjects fairly consistently, while Hispanics in the Labor Force is an edited collection of 13 wide-ranging articles written by scholars in several disciplines. Editors Edwin Melendez, Clara Rodriguez, and Janis Barry Figueroa have divided their book into five broadly defined topics: trends in earnings and income; the impact of industrial change on Hispanic employment; the representation of Hispanics among government workers; relationships between family responsibilities and the employment situation of Puerto Rican women; and policy issues concerning Hispanic employment.

Articles in each of these sections take a variety of approaches. For example, in an article on income, Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, Martin Carnoy, and Hugh Daley draw on information from the 1960, 1970, and 1980 census reports, and from more recent Current Population Surveys (CPS). The authors suggest that earnings in recent years have become more unequal between Hispanics and whites, and also among Hispanics. A detailed analysis examines changes by national origin, educational attainment, and other factors. The next article takes a different route; author Francisco L. Rivera-Batiz examines the effects of literacy on earnings, using indicators from the National Assessment of Educational Progress to demonstrate that quantitative skills - often overlooked in other discussions of literacy - have a particularly strong effect on the earnings of young Hispanic men.

Finally, Clara Rodriguez, using information from the 1980 census, assesses possible relationships between hourly wage rates and the racial identification of Puerto Ricans in New York. All of these articles offer compelling evidence that variables neglected by more traditional analyses may play important roles that affect the earnings and incomes of Hispanics.

Two articles on the employment situation of Puerto Rican women also highlight the importance of nontraditional variables for this research. Janis Barry Figueroa uses 1980 data for Puerto Rican single mothers in New York City to show that the women tend to be more likely to participate in the labor force if they have access to extended family networks. Terry J. Rosenberg's "Work and Family Responsibilities of Women in New York City" describes the interrelationships among early marriage, childbearing, separation or divorce, and the likelihood that young Puerto Rican women graduate from high school and participate in the labor force. Rosenberg also shows that in "any given subcategory of women, controlling for a number of characteristics, Puerto Rican women are always the least likely to work." This suggests that the factors accounting for the low proportions of Puerto Rican women in the labor force are more complicated than can be captured by Rosenberg's analysis. She concludes with several compelling hypotheses for longitudinal research.

Gregory DeFreitas' Inequality at Work covers a great deal of ground. The topics include trends in employment and earnings for Hispanics since 1950, differentials in unemployment by national origin, self-employment, educational attainment, and immigration. DeFreitas draws on a variety of data sets in novel ways. For example, this is the first study to apply information on Hispanics from each of the four population censuses from 1950 to 1980 to track socioeconomic trends. Because the Census Bureau did not maintain a consistent definition of Hispanics between 1950 and 1980, DeFreitas derived comparable data across the decades, using information available in each census - place of birth, Spanish-surname, and Puerto Rican origin. In his discussion of self-employment, the author applies data from the Census Bureau's Surveys of Minority- and Women-Owned Businesses to supplement the population censuses and the CPS. The 1976 Survey of Income and Education - an expanded version of the CPS - also is used as a supplemental data source to examine the unemployment of Hispanic-origin groups.

Inequality at Work includes critical reviews of past empirical research and theoretical discussions. Particularly interesting are DeFreitas' overviews of the literature on poverty, unemployment, self-employment, and immigration, and his observations that many theoretical discussions of these topics are inadequate when applied to data concerning Hispanics, a theme that also appears in Hispanics in the Labor Force.

The most recent data in both books generally refer to the late 1980's; some of the discussions undoubtedly will be updated as detailed information for more recent years is used more frequently. But the research in Hispanics in the Labor Force and Inequality at Work goes well beyond describing the trends; it will not be outdated quickly. On the contrary the discussions in these works are sure to become points of reference for some years to come. Both Hispanics in the Labor Force and Inequality at Work are important contributions to the literature on this rapidly growing group of workers.
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Author:Cattan, Peter
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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