Older Hispanics Unable to Recover from Recession

Florida – 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.

The 63-year-old Tarud knows firsthand how the Recession and the subsequent jobless “recovery” have disproportionately affected people like him. Tarud 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 mortgage is “under water,” and his grown daughters and his brother have to help him with his car payment.

Though 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 on the Pew study.

“There are cultural reasons for that and economic reasons. The recession has reinforced that trend.”

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. A June 2011 AARP analysis of U.S. labor numbers found that workers age 55 and over who lost their jobs stayed unemployed an average of more than 52 weeks, 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 a study recently released by the Pew Hispanic Center. The median wealth of Hispanic households dropped a staggering 66 percent from 2005 to 2009, compared to a drop of just 16 percent in non-Hispanic white households.

The Pew report pinned the disparity on the fact that Hispanics had 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.

Tarud bought his home for $87,000 back in 2008, when he was working for a 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.

Now, he’s in another training program. The 15-hour-per-week job is part of a program to train older workers run by the nonprofit organization 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. 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+ clientele Unidad serves has tripled since the Recession began, Adrian said. Seventy percent of Unidad’s clients 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 without any source of retirement income.

Only 38 percent of employed Hispanics aged 50 to 69 had employer-sponsored retirement plans during the period between 2006 and 2008, compared to 62 percent of non-Hispanic whites, according to AARP. Rakesh Kochhar, associate director for research at the Pew Hispanic Center, said Hispanics 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 though 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.”