Hispanic Workers Save NC Construction Industry $1B

Wed January 18, 2006 - Southeast Edition

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC (AP) Low-wage Hispanic workers depressed payrolls in North Carolina by approximately $2 billion in 2004, but businesses also employed approximately 90,000 people to cater to them, according to a study billed as the first authoritative look at the economic impact of Hispanic workers in the state.

The 13-month study by a pair of University of North Carolina professors also found that Hispanic workers filled about a third of the new jobs created in the state in the past decade and filled approximately 30 percent of jobs in the construction industry.

The willingness of Hispanic workers to take jobs at lower wages saved the construction industry approximately $1 billion and all businesses approximately $1.9 billion in 2004, said John Kasarda, director of UNC’s Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise. Kasarda conducted the study with management professor James Johnson Jr.

“A state needs low-wage labor to compete. I don’t care where you are, it’s a must. If we get rid of all our low-wage labor, we are in trouble,” Kasarda said.

North Carolina’s Hispanic population surged approximately 400 percent in the 1990s and grew another 35 percent from 2000 to 2004, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We know that Hispanic workers — at the low-education, low-wage end — tend to depress wage levels. But industry after industry, we found, was surviving by hiring Hispanics,” Kasarda said. “This helped keep the foremen, and the managers, the owners, and stockholders alive in North Carolina. That would disappear without low-wage labor.”

The study also found that Hispanic residents contribute approximately $9.2 billion a year to the state’s economy, and businesses chasing the money they spend employed 89,900 workers in 2004.

“They clothe their children, they buy birthday cards, they do everything that you and I do,” Kasarda said. “They have a major, major impact on this state, and its businesses and revenues.”

The study estimated the state’s population of Hispanic residents at approximately 600,000 — approximately 7 percent of the state’s total population of 8.5 million.

Approximately 45 percent of Hispanics in North Carolina are living in the United States illegally, according to the study, which was chiefly financed by the North Carolina Bankers Association and had the support of the Mexican consulate in Raleigh.

“I hope most of us will see a half-full glass rather than a half-empty one,” Mexican Consul Armando Ortiz-Rocha said.

Approximately 22 percent of the state’s Hispanic residents were born in North Carolina, the study said, and more moved to the state from other parts of the United States than from outside the country. Approximately 38 percent Hispanic residents arrived from abroad, with approximately three out of four arriving from Mexico.

The study’s publication comes as efforts to clamp down on illegal immigration are gaining attention in Congress. The House passed a measure that included building a 700-mi. fence along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border and requiring employers to verify the legal status of its workers.

William Gheen, president of Raleigh-based Americans for Legal Immigration, said the study helps illustrate that business leaders are behind a boom in illegal immigration, which feeds their need for low-wage workers.

“We have corporations, businesses and banks that are guilty of aiding and abetting this crime wave of being an illegal alien,” said Gheen, whose group favors stricter immigration controls. “The open-borders lobby is in full-court press. They are doing everything they can to get the American public to accept an amnesty disguised as a guest worker program.”

President Bush wants a guest worker program that would allow illegal immigrants to stay in the country temporarily to fill jobs unwanted by Americans.

The study also found that Latinos cost the state budget more in health care, education and correctional services than they pay in taxes. The difference worked out to $102 per Hispanic resident.

But while the study did not compare other racial or ethnic groups, Kasarda said it’s likely that all demographic groups draw more in state resources than they pay in because the state collects taxes from businesses as well as from the individuals who claim services.

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