Economic leaders hail Latino contributions, push for more worker training and quality jobs
Event focuses on essential role Latinos will play in economic recovery
When Prabal Chakrabarti, community affairs officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, explains the importance of Latino workers to the New England economy, he cites several attributes that are backed by strong data.
One is that Latinos are driving population increases in New England, a region with otherwise stagnant growth. He also notes Latinos disproportionately take on work in sectors that were deemed essential during the pandemic – grocery and transit workers among them.
But Chakrabarti also talks of qualities that aren’t as easy to chart.
“When you involve Latinos in the design of economic development efforts, of course you get economic development, you get workforce,” he said. “But it has a different flavor, and it has a different focus and a feel, and at times a different language, as well. That's incredibly important in thinking about Latinos as assets to build a stronger and more equitable economy.”
Supporting Latinos is “a debt we owe”
The economic contributions of Latinos were the focus of a virtual conference hosted last month by the Boston Fed, “Essential Today, Essential for the Future: Latinos and an Equitable Market Recovery.” The Bank organized the event after being approached by Conexion, a Boston-based group focused on advancing Latino leadership in business, nonprofits, and government.
Speakers at the event talked about ways to better support Latino workers, including increasing access to skills training, quality jobs, and child care. To Chakrabarti, it’s about “a debt we owe.”
“The Latino worker is not just important as an overall share of the workforce, but really kept the Commonwealth going during this time,” said Chakrabarti, head of the Bank’s Regional and Community Outreach department.
Chakrabarti gave the keynote presentation at the Oct. 15 event, and he came equipped with statistics that illustrated the regional impact of Latino workers.
He noted Massachusetts saw 7.4% population growth between 2010-2020, and it was Latino-driven, as Latinos saw about 41% growth in the state over that period. Without Latino growth, Chakrabarti said, statewide population growth wouldn't be anywhere near its current level.
He also detailed the prevalence of Latinos in industries considered either essential, or else hit hard, during the pandemic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Latinos made up 17.6% of the U.S. workforce in 2020, but 30% of the construction industry, and about 24% of Leisure and Hospitality, 21% of Transportation and Warehousing, and 19% of Retail Trade. As a result, Chakrabarti said, they paid a bigger price for COVID than other groups. For instance, according to the CDC, Latinos saw a three-year drop in life expectancy between 2019 and 2020 (81.8 to 78.8), compared to about one year for whites (77.8 to 77.6).
Quality jobs matter: “Dead-end jobs aren’t getting us anywhere”
Panelist Bob Rivers, the chair and CEO of Eastern Bank, said Latinos also took a bigger hit during widespread business closings and job losses during the pandemic. And he added that, as the economy recovers, a lot of Latino workers aren’t willing to simply return to low-quality jobs.
“What I’m hearing now is much more of a focus on pay and benefits, because so many of those workers are not coming back,” Rivers said. “And, yes, it’s concern over health risks, but it’s also a reflection that those dead-end jobs aren’t getting us anywhere. They don’t provide enough income to pay for other essential services, like child care.”
Juan Fernando Lopera, co-chair of the Latino Equity Fund, which is part of the Boston Foundation, agreed a lack of affordable child care is a major obstacle to getting Latinos back in the workforce.
“If it’s going to cost more to pay for child care than what you’re going to make, then it becomes a pretty easy decision. People are going to stay at home,” said Lopera, who is also chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Beth Israel Lahey Health.
He added, “We need to come up with creative ways to allow our community to be reengaged and reenter the workforce.”
In recorded remarks, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker pointed to increased workforce training as critical to any recovery, and he touted a $240 million proposal by his administration which he said would “turbocharge” job training programs statewide and train 52,000 people over three years.
“When we train and upscale the unemployed and underemployed, we move toward a more equitable recovery for Latinos and other communities of color, helping to bridge the opportunity and workforce gaps that persist in our economy,” Baker said.
The event concluded with a preview of a “Diversity Dashboard for Latinos and Hispanics” being developed by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
Mahesh Ramachandran, chief economist with the office’s Department of Economic Research, said the dashboard indicates communities with the highest concentrations of Latinos also have higher levels of poverty and lower rates of home ownership and broadband access.
That kind of data can give the public and policymakers insight into the state’s challenges and lead to more targeted solutions, said Rosalin Acosta, the Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development.
“What we want to do is bring data to our communities and to the streets,” she said. “We want our local data to speak for itself.”
Download a video of the event.