Huge lag in pay for Hispanics, Calif. study says

Education is chief factor, authors of report state

August 20, 1999|By SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER

SAN FRANCISCO -- The wages of Hispanic workers in California lag far behind those of other ethnic groups, and a corresponding lack of education is the main culprit, according to a report done for state legislators.

With a median income of $14,560 per year, Hispanics make about $8,000 less than the next-lowest-wage group, blacks, the report said.

Increasing the wages of Hispanics, who will make up the state's largest group of workers by 2025, will mean big dividends for California, said state Senate Majority Leader Richard G. Polanco, a Democrat from Los Angeles, who requested the study.

"If we are able to realize a long-term goal of raising the level of educational attainment of Latinos to that of non-Latinos, the result would be $28 billion in increased earnings circulating in our economy," Polanco said in a written statement.

Hispanics make up 28 percent of the 15.6 million workers in the state, and their numbers are growing daily. "The earnings and the tax base that they represent, therefore, are vital to the state's economy," the authors of the report wrote.

The study, conducted by the California Research Bureau, an office of the state library, was presented to the Senate Education Committee, the Latino Legislative Caucus and the Hispanic Republican Caucus.

The biggest factor in the relatively low earnings of Hispanic workers is education, said Elias Lopez, one of the authors of the report that was released Wednesday.

According to the study, which was based in part on a U.S. Census Bureau survey of 13,000 Californians in March 1998, more than 45 percent of Hispanic workers do not have a high school diploma, and 41 percent have only a high school diploma.

Just 8 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher.

In contrast, 33 percent of white workers have a bachelor's degree or higher.

"What we've done is we've provided Latinos with prison opportunities rather than educational opportunities," said Robert Gnaizda, policy director for the Greenlining Institute, a public policy and advocacy center based in San Francisco.

"The prison system has eaten up a huge amount of discretionary money that could have gone to the expansion of higher education," said Gnaizda, who was not involved in the study. Since the early 1980s, California has built 23 prisons and no new universities, he said.

The lack of education is not limited to recent immigrants, but persists even for third-generation Hispanics, the report said.

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