Hispanic workers, particularly immigrants, have been disproportionately hard hit by the nation's economic downturn, according to a report this week.

Hispanics lost nearly 250,000 jobs in the construction sector alone over the past year, according to the "Latino Labor Report 2008," released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center. The bulk of the job losses — 221,000 — were among immigrants, 152,000 of them from Mexico.

"To put it bluntly, Hispanics had a rough time in the labor market in 2007," Rakesh Kochhar, the report's author, said during a teleconference with reporters.

Construction had been a longtime driver of growth for Hispanic workers, the report said, which has left them particularly hard-hit by the industry's ongoing slump. The Pew study found Hispanic construction workers saw their earnings decline by 7 percent in 2007.

"They are more dependent on the construction industry than other workers," Kochhar said. "More than four in five foreign-born Latinos work in this industry alone."

Overall, employment growth for Latinos was cut in half in 2007, when Latinos gained just 329,000 jobs — compared to 734,000 a year earlier. And immigrants are comprising a smaller role in the growth of the Latino work force, the report said. However, Kochhar said, there's no evidence the immigrants are leaving the U.S. labor market.

The unemployment rate for Hispanic immigrants rose to 7.5 percent in the first quarter of 2008, marking the first time since 2003 that their employment rate was higher than U.S.-born Hispanics. The unemployment rate for non-Hispanics was 4.7 percent, the report said.

The survey used information from the Current Population Survey, a monthly survey of about 60,000 households by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Utah, the overall unemployment rate remains at 3.1 percent, said Mark Knold, senior economist for the Department of Workforce Services. While the state data don't track race or ethnicity, Knold said the trend of Hispanics being hard hit likely holds true here, where the bulk of the economic slowdown is due to construction. By the end of the summer, the state's construction industry will likely have lost 10,000 jobs in one year— a 10 percent drop.


E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com