Older Hispanics Unable to Recover from Recession

Older Hispanics Unable to Recover from Recession

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Alberto Tarud, 63, works 15 hours a week as a greeter in the lobby of a state office building in Miami, Fla., as part of a federal jobs training program for workers 55-plus that Congress has sharply cut. (Equal Voice photo by Emily Michot)

MIAMI, Fla. – Alberto Tarud would like to treat your lawn for pests, notarize your will or provide security at your office.

Really, he’d like any kind of job at all.

Tarud, 63, knows first hand how the recession and the subsequent jobless “recovery” have disproportionately affected people like him. He used to run a plastic-bag factory in his native Colombia. In 2006, he moved to South Florida to be closer to his adult daughters, brother and grandchildren. He has a work permit and was able to buy a home in southern Miami-Dade County in 2008.

But, for two years now, Tarud has been unemployed or underemployed; his home is under water with a mortgage higher than the value of his house, and his grown daughters and his brother have to help him with car payment.

Moving in With Their Children

Although Tarud has been able to stay in his home, many older Hispanics have had to move in with their children.

“Hispanics tend to live in larger households, with more support from each other,” said Rakesh Kochhar, the senior researcher of a recent study of Latino economic security by the Pew Hispanic Center.
“There are cultural reasons for that and economic reasons. The recession has reinforced that trend,” Kochhar said.

Tarud worries what will happen if he gets sick – he has no health or disability insurance – or if he loses his home.

“I guess I’d have to move in with one of my daughters,” he said outside the government building where he works as a greeter three hours a day for minimum wage. “They help me when they can, but they can’t afford to support me.”

Tarud’s situation is not unusual. An analysis of U.S. labor numbers by AARP’s Public Policy Institute found that as of July, workers ages 55 and older who lost their jobs stayed unemployed an average of almost 54 weeks, over four full months longer than younger unemployed workers.

Tarud’s net worth has evaporated just when he needs a financial cushion. Hispanics have seen the greatest drop in personal wealth of any group in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center study. The median wealth of Hispanic households dropped a staggering 66 percent from 2005 to 2009, compared to a decline of one 16 percent in non-Hispanic white households.
Fallen Housing Values

The Pew report pinned the disparity on the fact that Hispanics have more of their assets tied up in housing and a disproportionate share live in the states where property values fell the most: Florida, California, Nevada and Arizona.

Tarud knows just what the report is talking about. He bought his home for $87,000 in 2008, when he was working for the pest control company and felt his future was secure enough to sink his savings into a down payment. Now, the modest, two-bedroom is worth about $32,000, according to the county property appraiser.

Not only does Tarud owe more than the home is now worth, but his interest rate just reset, increasing the payments he was already struggling to make.

“I can’t refinance because I don’t have a job, but I’m not behind on my mortgage,” he said. “I could understand if they were scared of me because I haven’t made my payments, but I have.”

In 2010, 2.2 percent of homes in the country were in foreclosure, but in Florida, the number was 5.5 percent, according to RealtyTrac numbers discussed in the Pew report.

In Miami-Dade County, the unemployment rate was 12.5 percent in July 2011, compared to the national rate of 9.1 percent.

Tarud responded to his layoff by learning new skills: He took a class to become a notary and then went through training to get his license as a security guard. But no job has materialized. He gets by with small notary commissions and by doing the occasional pest-control job. He lost an arm in a car accident in 2004, but until the economy went south, he had always been able and eager to work.

Older-Worker Job Training Cut

Now, he’s in another training program for older workers, which involved a 15-hour-per-week job is part of the federally funded Senior Community Service Employment Program to train older workers run locally by the nonprofit Unidad of Miami Beach.

Unidad is using soon-to-dry-up stimulus money to pay for the program, which covers the wages of job trainees, who are placed in government and nonprofit organizations. For on-the-job training.

Raymond Adrian, of Unidad, said he recently had to cut all trainees back to 15 hours a week, from 20, because of budget cuts. The demand for job training among the 55-plus clientele Unidad serves has tripled since the recession began, Adrian said. Of Unidad’s clients, 70 percent are Hispanic.

“They face so much discrimination because they’re Hispanic and older,” he said. “I tell them not to put the years they’ve worked at a job on their resume. People see they worked in the 1970s, and they don’t even get a call for an interview.”

Many fear people like Tarud will make up another tragic demographic in a few years: retirees with no source of retirement income.

Only 38 percent of employed Hispanics aged 50 to 69 had employer-sponsored retirement plans from 2006 to 2008, compared to 62 percent of non-Hispanic whites, according to AARP.

Kochhar of the Pew Hispanic Center said Latinos have traditionally been much more reliant than other demographic groups on Social Security and other government programs in retirement because so few have private retirement plans.

Tarud, who came to this country legally in 2006, will qualify for little in the way of Social Security benefits, and although he has worked all of his adult life, he doesn’t see how he will ever be able to truly retire.

“I just have to work,” he said. “There’s no help for it.”