Report: Latinas, despite deplorable work conditions, now make up 9% of state’s workforce

Rutgers Center for Women and Work says Latinas often have low wages, no benefits or access to child care

Low wages, nonexistent benefits, no access to child care and virtually no time or money to do anything other than work and care for their family.

It sounds awful. Unfortunately, it also describes the workforce conditions of Latinas, who now represent nearly 1 in 10 workers in the state.

The statistics are available in a new report from the Rutgers Center for Women and Work, which was released Monday.

Glenda Gracia-Rivera, a researcher in the Rutgers Center for Women and Work and lead author of the report, said it details life for working Latinas, who now represent 9% of the New Jersey workforce, filling many essential, frontline roles and contributing to their local economies.

“These women are doing the work that no one else wants to do, like cleaning homes and working in factories,” Gracia-Rivera said. “The gender pay gap is well known, but this report goes beyond the numbers to demonstrate what life is really like for Latina immigrants in our state. The findings are frankly alarming.”

So are the statistics. Consider:

  • New Jersey ranks near the bottom of all states (49th) on pay equity for Latinas, with only California faring worse;
  • Latinas in New Jersey earn, on average, 45 cents for every dollar a non-Hispanic white man earns, totaling just $27,000 to $30,000 per year. Part-time and seasonal workers earn even less;
  • Many Latinas lack affordable housing, child care, health care, mental health services, paid time off, unemployment insurance and other social safety nets. Compared to second- or third-generation Latinas, immigrants are even harder hit by these deficits.

Rutgers researchers interviewed 69 women who receive services at the Hispanic Women’s Resource Centers to learn more about the lived experiences of Latina immigrants in New Jersey. Based in Asbury Park, Camden, Dover and Newark, these nonprofit HWRCs provide free community health, education and employment services to a rapidly growing number of clients.

The interviews revealed a pattern of economic and employment challenges, including:

  • Finding work: With limited professional networks in the U.S., the women often turn to family and friends (48%), their HWRC (20%) or temporary agencies (18%) for job leads. Many settle for low-wage jobs as housecleaners or foodservice workers;
  • Facing barriers: The women cite limited English proficiency (46%), lack of child care access (30%), immigration status (14%), transportation issues (13%) and racism/discrimination (13%) as the five biggest obstacles to finding a job that pays better. (Percentages do not add to 100%, as many women face multiple challenges);
  • Scraping by: Most of the women (83%) earn just enough money for basic expenses, though many (38%) are stretching themselves even thinner by sending money to struggling family members in the U.S. or in their home country;
  • Feeling sick: Few of the women (7%) have paid time off to care for themselves or a loved one, sometimes going to work sick to avoid losing a day’s pay. Most women (64%) did not know about New Jersey’s earned sick leave and paid family leave policies;
  • Always working: Only four of the 69 women have enough time for leisure activities, and only two women have the money to do anything fun. Their lives are a treadmill of going to work, caring for family members and trying to make ends meet;
  • Looking ahead: Many women cite learning English as their No. 1 personal goal (29%), and some have enrolled in English as a Second Language classes at their HWRC. The women also express hope of owning a home (28%), advancing their education (22%), finding a stable career (20%) and attaining legal status (19%), among other goals.

Jesselly de la Cruz, executive director of the Latino Action Network Foundation, said the study highlights the important work Hispanic Women’s Resource Centers perform in Latino communities across the state, addressing the wage gap and helping families enter the middle class.

“The case for investing in New Jersey’s Latina women is clear,” she said. “LANF looks forward to working with Gov. (Phil) Murphy and the Legislature on increasing investment in this critical program so that more New Jersey families can benefit from these community resources.”