The Hispanic Community Is Important To The Housing Industry–In More Than One Way

Today’s daily news contained an item about how the sinking construction market is hurting the Hispanic community–and while that effect is just now becoming apparent, it’s likely to alter the industry for months to come.

What’s happening:

A new study by the
Pew Hispanic Center found that the seasonally adjusted
Hispanic unemployment rate reached 6.5 percent in the first quarter.

By comparison, for non-Hispanics, the unemployment rate was just 4.7 percent, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In addition, Hispanics are making less: Weekly earnings have fallen from $512 a week in 2006 to $480 a week this year.

According to May New York Times
article, they’re also sending less money home: The amount of the almost
19 million U.S. Latino immigrants sending money to family members in
Latin America dropped from three-fourths two years ago to about half, an Inter-American
Development Bank survey found.

A few interesting caveats:

As the housing slump chipped away at the rest of the construction industry, Hispanic workers actually fared decently in its early stages: They were able to get 300,000 more new construction industry jobs in the first quarter of 2007.

But that’s not the situation anymore–particularly for undocumented immigrant workers, who have been the target of recent government crackdowns.

The housing slump officially has reached Hispanic construction workers, the Journal says. The nonseasonally adjusted unemployment rate for foreign-born
Hispanics–many of which lack citizenship–grew to 7.5 percent in the first
quarter of the year,
according to the Pew report.

In the first quarter of 2007, the unemployment rate for the same group increased 5.5 percent.

The difference for native-born Hispanics–Hispanic-Americans–was significant: Their unemployment rate was 6.9 percent in the first quarter.

In 2007, the unemployment rate for Hispanic-Americans was only a little bit lower–6.7 percent–indicating they saw less of an effect from the construction sector decline.

How it’s going to affect the future:

The housing slump will end–it may feel far off, but at some point (many say early next year), the housing market will be in a clear state of recovery.

And when it is, we’re going to need more workers again.

Which is going to be a problem, since Hispanics made up a huge portion of the construction industry–26 percent of the seven million U.S. construction workers
are Hispanic, according to Labor Department statistics that many feel are actually far too low because of the probable amount of undocumented workers.

But many, according to the Journal, have sought jobs in other industries in the U.S. as the decline continued. Will we able to woo those workers back?

Yet filling open construction positions isn’t the only concern.

Remember that New York Times article that said less money was being sent home to Latin America? It also said that the weak U.S. economy has hurt Hispanic homeownership in the U.S.–so much so that a long era of increased Latino homeownership may be reversed.

The rate of Hispanic homeownership grew from 41 percent to 50 percent from 1994
to 2006, census data showed; the pace was more than twice the
increase among non-Hispanics.

But if Hispanic homeownership is declining, that means less homebuyers–for the same large amount of unsold homes–and more problems for the sluggish U.S. housing market. We need more buyers; not less buyers.

But if the economy keeps declining, we could lose more than just Hispanic homeowners–we could lose a good chunk of the Hispanic population. For now, displaced workers are finding jobs in other sectors: But rising unemployment could force many to leave the U.S. altogether.

Questions remain: What can we do now to ensure that when we need construction workers later, they’ll be ready, willing and able?

How can we help Hispanic families save their homes so that the Hispanic homeownership trend doesn’t end?

And–most importantly–what will we do if we find ourselves, in a year or so, with a solid demand for residential building … but less workers and less people to buy the homes?