North Carolina Economic Impact of Latinos
The rapid increase of the state’s Latino population has been felt perhaps most strongly in the economic sector. North Carolina’s growing economy has provided
a space for Latinos to fill, while also serving as an attraction for those in other parts of the country who are looking for work. Latinos in North Carolina’s workforce are found mostly in blue-collar occupations such as construction, agriculture, trucking, and cleaning services.14 Forty-two percent of Latino workers in the state are found in construction, with wholesale and retail trade following as a distant second, at 11.5 percent. Agriculture was once the main draw for Latinos to North Carolina. The North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA) used to contract out thousands of laborers from Mexico and other Latin American countries to farms that needed field-workers. These laborers would often end up in farms, growing cucumbers for the Mt. Olive Pickle Company. Complaints abounded that the NCGA abused its workers by denying them water and medical care. Today only 9.2 percent of the population works in agriculture, making it the fourth most common industry for Latinos in the state.15 Despite their heavy concentration in blue-collar industries, Latinos are starting to move to white-collar occupations, according to a report issued by the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.16 In the decade between 1995 and 2005, Latinos added some 15,164 workers in office and administrative support occupations, as compared to 20,102 jobs in farming, fishing, and forestry.17
In addition to providing valuable labor to the growing economy of North Carolina, the Latino population also has a significant buying power, especially in the metropolitan areas. In 2004 the state’s Latinos held an estimated $8.35 billion in buying power.18 North Carolina’s business community has begun to realize the importance of Latino spending, and many local businesses are now targeting the Latino population.
The economic impact of Latinos on the state, however, is not limited to gains. North Carolina has also undertaken serious costs to support the Latino population, especially in the areas of K-12 public education and health services.19 In
2004 the state spent an estimated $467 million in K-12 education, $299 million on health services, and $50.7 million on corrections for the Latino population. When Latino tax contributions are factored into the equation, the net cost of Latinos to North Carolina comes to $61 million, or about $102 per Latino resi-dent.20 Nevertheless, Latino labor has helped sustain North Carolina’s growth, and thus it has contributed in immeasurable ways to the state’s progress and development, making the net cost a small investment in comparison.21
Unlike other states with a much longer history of Latino presence, North Carolina is just entering the period of its Latino experience, making it an especially exciting and rich ground for social research. This recent growth in Latino population also brings with it challenges for current researchers, especially because of the general lack of Latino historical context within the state and the constantly changing cultural landscape. Nevertheless, the transition from a migrant workforce to a more permanent settlement, compounded with the expo-
nential increase of Latino migrants throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, has begun to change the North Carolinian experience socially and economically.
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