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Dominicans, Who Make Up Fastest Growing Ethnic Group in New York, Have Lowest Income, Recent Study Shows

Dominicans, the fastest-growing major ethnic group in New York City during the 1980s, are facing major economic difficulties, according to a recent study released by the City University of New York (CUNY) Dominican Studies Institute at City College and Columbia University's Teachers College. Using data from the 1990 U.S. Census of Population, researchers from the two institutions found that the income of the Dominican population was the lowest of all the major racial and ethnic groups in New York City. More than 36 percent of the Dominican population residing in the City in 1990 lived in households that were below the poverty line.

The study was released in a news conference at Teachers College. Among the political leaders who were in attendance were Guillermo Linares of the New York City Council, John Brian Murtaugh of the New York State Assembly, and Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger.

DOMINICANS IN NEW YORK CITY

In the Assembly, Murtaugh represents District 72, which includes the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, a neighborhood that has a large concentration of Dominicans. Linares, who represents Washington Heights, is the only Dominican on the City Council; he is also a City College graduate and a doctoral candidate at Teachers College. The study was carried out as a joint project of the Dominican Studies Institute and Teachers College's Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME). The co-authors were: Ramona Hernandez, a researcher with the Dominican Studies Institute; Francisco L. Rivera-Batiz, the director of IUME and an associate professor of economics and education at Teachers College; and Roberto Agodini, an IUME researcher. During the 1980s, the Dominican population in New York City grew from 125,380 to 332,713. They now constitute the second-largest Hispanic group in the City; only Puerto Ricans outnumber them. "The changing economic environment in the City has impacted the Dominican population in a sharply negative way," said Hernandez. "The low and declining earnings of unskilled workers in New York constitute a formidable barrier for the Dominican population. And the decline of manufacturing as a sector of employment has had a devastating impact on Dominican workers, especially women.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the number of manufacturing jobs in the City declined sharply, as the economy was restructured from manufacturing to services, and the Dominican population has by far the highest proportion of persons employed in manufacturing in New York City. In 1990, a total of 25.7 percent of the Dominican labor force was employed in manufacturing, compared to 10.9 percent among non-Hispanic whites and 8.2 percent for non-Hispanic Blacks. As a result of the deteriorating labor market situation, unemployment among Dominicans has soared. Among Dominican women in New York City, the unemployment rate was 18.6 percent in 1990 and among men it was 16 percent--close to twice the rate for the overall City population. The earnings of Dominican men and women also lag substantially behind those of the general population in New York. In 1989, the annual earnings of Dominican male workers averaged $15,088, 52 percent of the earnings of the overall male workforce in the City. For Dominican women, the annual salary averaged $11,347, compared to $20,489 for the overall female workforce.

DOMINICANS IN NEW YORK CITY CHALLENGING THE SELF-EMPLOYMENT MYTH

The report also challenges the view that Dominican immigrants in New York have succeeded economically by generating a dynamic self-employment sector with a myriad of small business. According to the Census data, only 7 percent of Dominicans in the labor force were self-employed in 1990, compared to an overall labor force average in New York City of 8.9 percent and a self-employment rate for Whites that stood at 12 percent. "The 1990 Census data is simply inconsistent with the view that the Dominican population in New York has been thriving economically through a high rate of business creation and self-employment relative to other ethnic and racial groups," said Rivera-Batiz. "This is not totally surprising since immigrant populations with major business-sector communities also have high levels of educational attainment, something the Dominican population lacks." According to the report, one of the underlying reasons for the economic difficulties suffered by Dominicans is their comparatively low educational attainment.

As much as 61.5 percent of all Dominican New Yorkers 25 years of age or older had not completed high school in 1990. Only 6.1 percent of the same group had completed college, compared to 24.7 percent of New Yorkers overall. "The lower relative educational attainment of the Dominican population compared to other groups in New York City explains the high proportion of the population in unskilled, blue-collar jobs," said Agodini. The proportion of the Dominican labor force employed as operators, laborers and fabricators was the highest in the City, 30.9 percent in 1990. By comparison, only 9.6 of the Dominican population was employed in executive and managerial jobs.

UNDERREPRESENTED IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR

Dominicans are underrepresented in the New York City public sector. Indeed, the researchers reported that, although the Dominican population accounts for approximately 5 percent of the population of New York City, only 2 percent of the public sector labor force in 1990 was composed of Dominicans. Dr. Silvio Torres-Saillant, Director of the Dominican Studies Institute at CUNY, sees a need for greater access to the public sector among Dominicans in New York.

"Less than 10 percent of all Dominican workers were employed in the public sector in 1990, compared to more than 17 percent for the rest of the population," Dr. Torres-Saillant said. "The absence of Dominican workers in government employment should be a matter of immediate attention for policymakers in the City ."

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