Labor Days :: the Hispanic Diaspora and the Labor Crunch.

Border Cartoon


Three stories jolted me in quick succession last week.


A close friend who leads a residential home building firm in Chicago responded glumly when I asked about his new home start. Earlier reports were all positive – great dirt, original floorplan, no issues with Windy City permits.


What’s wrong?” I asked.

Can’t find a carpenter. We’re nearly 0-fer-10. We’ll have to delay the start until one of them wraps up their current job.


12 hours later I received this text message from a Lead Purchasing Manager at a Top 5 national builder.


“Have you figured out how to leverage Red Angle to help bridge the labor shortage in the construction industry to the talented Hispanic community?”




As the construction industry re-boots, I expected some labor woes. Whether it’s talented superintendents or project managers or carpenters. The individuals that left the industry found other things to do. It’ll take a while.


I mean, you put that 2007 Corvette in storage for 6 years, it’s bound to take a some effort to get it up & running like it used to. You can’t just flip a switch.




Then came the Pew Hispanic Center report last Thursday. Pew released their mapping study of Hispanics across the country – down to the state, county & city level.


Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 9.32.36 AM


Some things remained the same:

  • Los Angeles has 5M Hispanics, or nearly 10%, of the nation’s Hispanics.
  • 52 of the 100 counties with the largest number of Hispanics are in California, Texas and Florida.
  • Add in Arizona, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey and Illinois – now these 8 states are home to 3 out of every 4 Hispanics (74%).


These trends are consistent.

Not much change here.


What is different is that “the share of all Hispanics who live in these same [top 100 largest counties by Hispanic population] counties has fallen from 75% in 2000 and 78% in 1990 (Fry, 2008), reflecting Hispanic population growth outside of these 100 counties.


Hispanics have ventured out of the CA-TX-FL strongholds into places like Alabama, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee. We’ve got a mini-Hispanic Diaspora going on.


Screen shot 2013-09-04 at 10.55.17 PM


When the Great Recession hit, Hispanics were the first round of cuts at training camp.

They didn’t wait around.

They packed up and moved on.


Will they return?



We need them to…


Six years have gone by since the US economy was “normal.” In some markets it’s been longer than that. Our aging Boomer workforce is six years older. Many may not have the desire – or the skills – to return to the jobsite and pick up a hammer.


Locally in Chicagoland where over 2M Hispanics reside, the median age of Hispanics is 26. That’s 15 years – 15 years! – younger than the median age of non-Hispanic Whites who comprise the majority of the construction trade.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an Unemployment Rate of over 30% for Hispanics between the ages of 16 and 19.


Pew also reported 31% of Hispanics under the age of 18 live in poverty.


We need to work together to connect the dots.

Hispanics represent a young & growing demographic with a penchant for hard work. The construction industry needs new workers to fill the labor shortage.


To make it all work, industry leaders need to adopt new ways of thinking – about people, potential, training, language, collaboration & partnership.


Let’s get to work.




Bradley Hartmann is founder and El Presidente at Red Angle (, a training and consulting firm bridging the English-Spanish (and a bit of Polish…) language gap in the construction industry.    

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Categories: Construction Spanish, Jobsite Leadership

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