The older Hispanic worker in a physically tough job -- here is my profile of her and him, published in Risk & Insurance Magazine. If you wish notes of my up to date research sources for this information, write me at pfr at rousmaniere dot com.
The most vulnerable demographic
Injury risks have diminished for most working Americans in recent decades. But for one demographic group, older Hispanic workers, these risks have remained high. This is especially so if you look at the broader context: exposure to injury, risk of failed recovery, and bars to shifting into safer work or retirement.
These are the most vulnerable 250,000 workers in America: Hispanic workers over 58 years or older in high physically demanding jobs.
First, their risk exposure remains high in part because they did not participate that much in the historic shift towards job gentrification.
For the mainstream of the workforce, work has become safer, easier. The share engaged in physically demanding labor has declined by well more than half since 1950, to about 8%. The cognitive content of work rose. So did mainstream educational achievement: the percentage of all workers with at least a high school degree has risen to over 90%.
But these changes have not been that much for Hispanic workers. Over of third of all Hispanics do not speak English well, or at all. Among older Hispanics, less than 70% have high school degrees, and over half are immigrants.
Historically, Hispanic workers fill relatively more injury prone jobs. This is partly due to the past concentration of immigrant Hispanic workers, first in agriculture, then in the 1990s in meat processing; and then in residential construction. Grounds maintenance, janitorial work, and hotel housekeeping also pose their own risks.
Among workers 58 years or older, Hispanics are three times more likely today to have high physically demanding jobs than whites; one quarter more likely than blacks.
And within these jobs Hispanics appear to suffer more injuries. Studies of construction injuries among men, and hotel housekeeping injuries among women, showed that the rates of injury among Hispanics were higher than among other workers. The studies don’t explain why.
The injured Hispanic worker is more likely not to file a claim, if only because of fear and uncertainty among unauthorized workers who make up one third of the entire Hispanic workforce.
Their recovery from injury is more arduous. Dawn Smith, a Spanish-speaking nurse case manager at Genex, the managed care firm, reports that the vast majority of her major injury cases are first generation immigrants. The workers have not blended themselves into mainstream America. Over 90% of her Hispanic clients are less than proficient in English.
The older Hispanics, even with decades to acculturate, often have their children speak English for them.
They are less likely to be informed healthcare consumers, such as by complying with treatment regimes. After all, the rate of Hispanic households without any personal health insurance is double that of the general population.
And “ they continue to be reinjured,” Smith told me. “They are told to work, overriding their temporary restrictions, they continue to work, and they will work until they drop in their tracks.”
The older work injured Hispanic is saddled with personal health conditions as much if not more so than other injured workers. The great majority have some measure of arthritis, and many have high blood pressure or diabetes.
Older Hispanic workers have on average less freedom to exit high-risk jobs for either safer employment or retirement. Their relatively low level of education and language problems can be barriers to entry into safer, more cognitive work.
Retirement is less attainable. The worn out native worker can take social security at age 62 and SSDI whenever eligible due to disability. Unauthorized workers can’t access these benefits, even for those who pay into social security to the tune of several billions of dollars a year. Fewer Hispanics have corporate pensions.
This quarter of a million workers, Hispanic and old, in jobs with high physical demands. Their numbers are bound to grow.