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The disproportionate number of Latinos languishing in low-skill, poor-paying jobs is creating a Jim Crow-like job market that threatens to keep Hispanics and other people of color stuck in poverty, according to a report released Friday.
Latinos, those fortunate enough not to be out of work, are often toiling away in jobs for which they earn salaries below the federal poverty line – employment that prevents them or future generations from attaining wealth, the Center for Social Inclusion, a policy strategy organization, found. The study, "From Jim Crow Jobs to Employment Equity," likened the uneven labor market to the segregation laws that kept blacks as second-class citizens for decades.
Anthony Giancatarino, a researcher for the study, said CSI made the comparison because employed people of color, though putting in as many hours at work as their white counterparts, remain stuck in a poverty rut that makes it impossible to crack even the middle class.
"We're finding that there are parallel tracks, that people of color are occupying these low-skill, low-wage jobs," Giancatarino said. "And these jobs are not providing an opportunity to advance."
Jobs like nursing aides or medical assistants, for example, are filled by a majority of people of color, the report found. Fifty-three percent of nursing aides are people of color; the medical assistant field, meanwhile, is 67 percent minority.
Whites, on the other hand, make up a disproportionate number of workers in six of the seven highest-paid fields, according to the study. About 80 percent of accountants and elementary school teachers, for instance, are whites.
Moreover, a physicians' assistant or a biochemist – other jobs disproportionately filled by whites – could bring home a salary of more than $80,000; by comparison, home health aides, who are typically people of color, make about $20,000, CSI found.
"People of color are working well over 40 hours a week," Giancatarino said. "It's just ridiculous for someone to be working that hard and be stuck in poverty."
CSI, which used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the study, points to education, transportation, jobs initiatives in Washington and a higher minimum wage as ways to reverse the trend. It recommends that President Obama and Congress, for example, protect Pell Grants, which help poor students of color while attending college.
Only three in 10 Latinos, the study found, earn an Associate's degree or higher.
"Blacks and Latinos will have fewer opportunities to fill the fastest growing occupations," the study read.
Giancatarino said policymakers don't have to reinvent the wheel to create better opportunities for poor people of color.
"It's not like we're asking for brand new opportunities," he said. "These are things that government has done in the past.'
Maya Wiley, meanwhile, called on President Obama to channel the courage he exhibited when he gave his famous "A More Perfect Union" speech on race in Philadelphia. In an op-ed to the Washington Post, Wiley challenged the president to the standard set by Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton.
"Obama should learn from his white Southern predecessors," the piece read. "He has the skills to shepherd us into "a more perfect union," and we need him to do it now."