Thursday, September 29, 2016

Celebrating Latin American Independence Days with
a Look at the Contributions and Needs of Latino Workers in Indiana

By Erin Macey

September 15th and 16th are independence days for a number of Central American countries and, in the U.S., kick off a month of heightened attention to the contributions and needs of Latino families in this country. According to the American Community Survey, Indiana is home to 439,094 Hispanic or Latino individuals - this represents 6.6 percent of Indiana’s total population. Though small in number, this growing community has made tremendous contributions to Indiana’s neighborhoods and economy. Many volunteer in their local communities and/or own businesses in Indiana. However, barriers remain that keep many Latino Hoosiers from reaching their fullest potential, to the detriment of their families and Indiana as a whole.

In Indiana, more than one in four Hispanic or Latino Hoosiers lives in poverty even though 42 percent of Latino adults worked full time, year round and 82 percent worked at least part time. But for barriers to opportunity, these numbers might be higher: more than 1 in 4 Latino Hoosiers felt that job opportunities were rarely or never available, and one half expressed that leadership or supervisory positions tended to be out-of-reach for members of Indiana’s Latino community. Nationwide, Latino workers tend to be clustered in low-wage industries and to be victims of wage theft more often, and wage theft has been reported here in Indiana.

Nationwide, Latino workers earn lower wages than white, non-Hispanic or Latino workers and again, Indiana is no exception. Here in Indiana, the 2015 median earnings of full time, year round Latino Hoosiers are $32,142 for men and $26,870 for women; by comparison, white non-Hispanic men earned $50,050 and women earned $36,583. Job quality is also an issue, with fewer Latino workers in jobs that provide sick days, fair scheduling, and paid leave. Increasing wages and job quality across the board would have a huge impact on Indiana’s Latino workers.   

Increasing access to higher education is another way to help change these statistics. Currently in Indiana, only 11.9 percent of Hispanic or Latino adults hold a bachelor’s degree, as compared to 25 percent of white Hoosiers. More than half of surveyed Latino Hoosiers see access to and supports for higher education as sometimes or rarely available. Focus groups with Latino families suggest that locating educational programs within local schools, expanding mass transit, and making financial aid information more readily available might help break down some of these barriers, but financing higher education remains a persistent challenge.

The growing Latino population in Indiana contributes in numerous ways to our communities, our economy, and our state. However, there is still work to be done to extend opportunity to these Hoosiers. To make Indiana a state that works for all, we must ensure that our policies equally reward initiative and hard work, strengthen economic security, and provide mobility so all Hoosier families can reach their potential.


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