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New Jersey Latinas fight the wage gap

New Jersey Latinas fight the wage gap
New Jersey Latinas earn just 45 cents for every dollar earned by a white man in the state -- the second largest wage gap for Latinas in the nation, according to a new study. Women interviewed often cited a lack of strong English as a major factor. Photo courtesy of FOCUS


Women cited lack of command of English as the top barrier to better salaries

Latinas in New Jersey earn 45 cents for every dollar earned by a white man — the second largest wage gap for Latinas in the nation, according to a recent study by the Rutgers University Center for Women’s Work and the Latina Action Network Foundation.

The study, “A Helping Hand in This Country: Resource Centers in the Employment and Economic Development of Latina Immigrants in New Jersey,” featured interviews with 69 women convened in eight focus groups at the four Hispanic Women’s Centers in New Jersey about their experiences as immigrants, and the barriers they face in the job market.

Glenda Gracia-Rivera of the Center for Women’s Work was a report author. The top barrier to better salaries was a lack of English competency, she said.

“When we talked to them, the [issue] that came up in 46% of the responses was English proficiency,” Gracia-Rivera said.

A lack of command or fluency in English led women to seek out job opportunities that didn’t allow for upward mobility or pay well, women interviewed in focus groups told Gracia-Rivera.

“The issue of not being able to speak English meant that they couldn’t take jobs that required a lot of speaking on the job,” explained Gracia-Rivera. “That’s why they then felt relegated to doing jobs like cleaning houses.”

Ana Lisett-Vera, an immigrant from Ecuador, is the education program coordinator at FOCUS, a Newark-based not for profit that helps Latinos in Essex Country learn English and access education. Lisett-Vera works to recruit, retain and register students for the center’s English as a Second Language and civics classes.

She’s also seen how the language barrier has limited opportunities for Latin American immigrants, regardless of their educational backgrounds.

“We have doctors, lawyers who have come and walked through our doors,” said Lisett-Vera. “But unfortunately, their degree from their country is – sorry to say, but it’s nothing here, because you know they don’t speak the language.”

FOCUS offers six levels of ESL courses. New students take a computer test that simulates an interview to determine their proficiency level. The free courses run in 15-week intervals three times a year.

Jocelyn Fisher was a contributing writer and editor for the Latina Wage Gap report. Latin American women are also interested in skills development courses, she said.

The study “did show that a lot of the women thought that the gaps in the services were in skill development courses and entrepreneurship courses,” Fisher said.

FOCUS offers vocational training as part of its integrated civics education curriculum, which combines English as a second language classes with courses that help students become American citizens. The courses help students develop a range of skills, and to obtain a certification via a partnership with Essex County College.

“The current training that we are offering is Microsoft Word, so when [clients] are learning English and civics, they can also participate in our Microsoft certification course,” said Lisett-Vera.

The report found that many women in the focus group felt discriminated against when seeking jobs.

“A lot of them talked about how because they couldn’t speak English well, they were discriminated against, and even if they did speak English and they had a heavy accent, there was a lot of discrimination,” Gracia-Rivera said.

Workplace discrimination can be a barrier, in that Latinas are often not given the opportunity to show what they are capable of,  Lisett-Vera argued.

“They (Latinas) are not getting paid the same, doing the same as others, or they just don’t get the title,” said Lisett-Vera. “We can’t get the title because we need certain qualifications that we — quote unquote quote —  “don’t have yet.”’

Many Latina immigrants also don’t know about the resource centers, the study found.

According to Gracia-Rivera, the issue comes down to a lack of funding and staff for the resource centers.

“If [FOCUS] had more resources, they would be able to send folks out to community events, do marketing, and have ads on the radio, but all of that costs money and it takes time,” Gracia-Rivera said.. “It’s something we’re hoping comes out of this: more money put into the centers, so they can access a larger audience.”





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