CMAS Study Shows Latino Impact in the Houston Region

Latinos Play Major Role in Industries Key to Post-COVID Economic Recovery

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A new report from the Center for Mexican American Studies found that Latino immigrants living in the Houston region play an outsize role in industries that will be crucial to the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, including construction, manufacturing and services. Photo: Pexels

A new report from the University of Houston’s Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) found that foreign-born and native-born Latinos living in the metro area combine for an economic impact of more than $980 million a year.

Foreign-born Latinos who have arrived within the last five years are better educated than their predecessors. They also have an outsize effect on the regional economy, making up 20% of the regional labor force and working in fields that will be crucial to the post-COVID economic recovery, including construction.

While most U.S.-born Latinos living in the Houston region are under the age of 15, a majority of Latino immigrants here are between 25 and 64, prime years for the workforce.

“The majority of foreign-born Latinos in the Houston metro area are in their most productive ages, which amplifies their contribution to the local labor market and the economy,” said Gabriela Sánchez-Soto,  visiting scholar at CMAS and author of the report. “Latino adults in the labor force contribute significantly to essential areas of the economy, like construction, services and manufacturing, which will be essential for the Houston region’s economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.”  

While foreign-born Latinos make up about 15% of the total regional population, they make up almost 20% of the labor force.

Together, foreign-born and native-born Latinos comprise about 37% of the population in the nine-county region. Texas is home to more international immigrants than any state but California and has the second-largest Latino population in the country, after California.

U.S.-born Latinos are younger and have higher levels of education than those born abroad, but more recent immigrants are better educated than their predecessors. The report says that suggests a growing number of Latinos will work in skilled occupations in the decades to come.

“It is essential that all stakeholders in the region, whether governmental or private entities, take advantage of Latinos’ qualifications by integrating them into commensurate occupations,” said Jeroinmo Cortina, associate professor of political science at UH and associate director of CMAS, who oversaw the research.

The report, “The Latinx Population in Greater Houston,” is designed to help government, education and community leaders better understand a population that already is the largest demographic group in Houston and is expected to become the largest in Texas by 2022. It analyzes the most recent data from the American Community Survey and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to draw a portrait of the Latino population in Greater Houston, which includes Harris, Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller counties.

Among its findings:

  • Immigration began to slow over the past decade. The proportion of foreign-born Latinos now makes up a smaller percentage of the overall Latino population, dropping to 40% in 2017 from 43% in 2010.
  • Today’s Latino immigrants are better-educated than their predecessors. For example, 26.8% of immigrants who have arrived in the last five years have a bachelor’s degree or higher. For those who have been here for at least 11 years, that drops to less than 10%.
  • The top five countries of origin for Latino immigrants in the Houston region were Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia and Guatemala, with about two-thirds from Mexico in 2017. Most Latino immigrants have been here since at least 2001, but about 14% have been here for less than five years.
  • Latinos make up 35% of the metro-area labor force, but that rises to 62% for construction, extraction, and maintenance occupations, 47% for service occupations, and 45% for production and transportation occupations.
  • More than half of Latinos are homeowners (58% of U.S.-born Latinos and 53% of foreign-born).
  • Latino households spend almost $56,000 a year on housing, healthcare, food, education, transportation and entertainment.

The full report is available on the CMAS website.

Despite the community's strengths, Cortina said the research suggests challenges ahead.

“Educational opportunities from middle school to higher education for this population must be a policy priority,” he said. “A well-educated workforce is crucial to sustain the economic growth of the region, as well as to help low-income families move up into the middle class.”