This is especially so if you look at the broader context: exposure to injury, risk of failed recovery, and barriers to shifting into safer work or retirement.
These are the most vulnerable 250,000 workers in America: Hispanic workers 58 years or older in physically demanding jobs. Why?
First, their exposure remains high because they did not participate 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 percent. The cognitive content of work rose and so did mainstream educational achievement: The percentage of all workers with at least a high school degree has risen to more than 90 percent.
But these changes have not affected Hispanic workers as deeply. More than a third of all Hispanics do not speak English well, or at all. Among older Hispanics, less than 70 percent have high school degrees, and more than 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 later in residential construction.
Among workers 58 years or older, Hispanics are three times more likely today to have highly physically demanding jobs than whites and one quarter more likely than blacks.
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 into mainstream America. More than 90 percent of her Hispanic clients are less than proficient in English.
They are less likely to be informed healthcare consumers in complying with treatment regimes.
And "they continue to be re-injured," 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 problems 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 Social Security Disability whenever eligible. 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.
PETER ROUSMANIERE is an expert on the workers' compensation industry.
November 1, 2010
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