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Latinos May Need More Than a 'Miracle' to Prosper in Texas

Veronica Zaragovia for KUT News

President Obama brought a message of economic recovery when he visited Austin yesterday, the first stop in his “ Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour.” Latinos in the U.S., however, are trailing behind the national average in unemployment. So how are they’re doing when it comes to finding work in the home of the “Texas miracle?"

On Tuesday evening, Nicolas Gutierrez stood outside of  a Fiesta supermarket in Austin, holding his girlfriend’s hand as they looked at the barbecue grills. Gutierrez will turn 40 this month. He works in construction and for years worked in Houston until he got sick of the low wages. He earned about $11 dollars an hour, he said.

"I decided to look for the company here that I used to work for in Houston, because I got numbers for other jobs like the kind I do," he said. "So I went and the boss who was there is my baseball team mate, and he contracted me."

Now he makes a little more, and says he feels at home.

"I won’t change Texas for New York," Gutierrez said. "I was in Miami, a few other places. I’ve never lacked work. But where things have gone best for me is here in Texas."

According to a 2010 Census Bureau report, almost a million Latinos in Texas work in construction.  In cities like Austin, they stand to gain as projects keep popping up.  As President Barack Obama toured the Texas Capitol, he called for a renewal of manufacturing jobs and remarked on Texas’ employment.  Governor Rick Perry calls the state a leader in job creation. Some have called its economy the “Texas miracle.”

"One of the main drivers of the Texas economy is oil and gas and the oil and gas industry is sometimes riding high when the rest of the economy is falling low," said  Gary Burtless, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution. "So Texas has fared better, not as well as North Dakota. But Texas has weathered the recession in better shape than the rest of the country."

The Economic Policy Institute projects Latino unemployment will be at about 8 percent by year’s end in Texas. Employment here has consistently been above the national average. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the U.S., Latino unemployment is still around 9 percent. Doug Hall, director of the Institute's Economic Analysis and Research Network, said even though that was a drop from last year, there’s little to celebrate.

"While I'm sure that Latino workers had unemployment rates in excess...in double digits during the worst times of the recession, a 9 percent unemployment rate is nothing to be celebrating," Hall said.

Catherine Singley says when Washington can’t agree on economic policy – it can affect local economies - even Texas. She is with the National Council of La Raza.

"The federal budget cuts are affecting everything from education to job training to military bases – those play out at the local level and what it means is that government employees lose jobs, their suppliers lose jobs and the entire local economy suffers," Singley said.

But she said recent bipartisan efforts on immigration policy could actually mean more jobs for Latino workers.

"Over the past couple of days there’s been talk about the boost to the overall economy that immigration reform would have and we’re encouraged to see the progress made in bipartisan matter in Congress as we speak," Singley said.

Doug Hall says immigration policy matters in Texas – as does investment in education. With Latinos poised to be the majority demographic in the state within 10 years, a clear plan on both would raise Latino employment --- and --- boost the Texas economy. 

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT News