Dominicans Are City's Fastest Growing, Poorest Group, Says Study

Dominicans, the fastest-growing major ethnic group in New York City during the 1980s, are facing major economic difficulties, according to a study released this week by Teachers College and the Dominican Studies Institute at City College.

Using data from the 1990 U.S. Census of Population, researchers from the two institutions found that the income of the Dominican population was the lowest of all the major racial and ethnic groups in New York City.

More than 36 percent of the Dominican population residing in the City in 1990 lived in households that were below the poverty line.

The study was carried out as a joint project of the Dominican Studies Institute and TC's Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME). The coauthors were: Ramona Hernandez, a researcher with the Dominican Studies Institute; Francisco L. Rivera-Batiz, the director of IUME and an associate professor of economics and education at TC, and Roberta Agodini, an IUME researcher.

During the 1980s, the Dominican population in New York City grew from 125,380 to 332,713. They now constitute the second-largest Hispanic group in the City; only Puerto Ricans outnumber them.

"The changing economic environment in the City has impacted the Dominican population in a sharply negative way," said Hernandez.

"The low and declining earnings of unskilled workers in New York constitute a formidable barrier for the Dominican population. And the decline of manufacturing as a sector of employment has had a devastating impact on Dominican workers, especially women."

During the 1970s and 1980s, the number of manufacturing jobs in the City declined sharply, as the economy was restructured from a manufacturing one to a service economy, and the Dominican population has by far the highest proportion of persons employed in manufacturing in New York City.

In 1990, a total of 25.7 percent of the Dominican labor force was employed in manufacturing, compared to 10.9 percent among non-Hispanic whites and 8.2 percent for non-Hispanic blacks.

As a result of the deteriorating labor market situation, unemployment among Dominicans has soared. Among Dominican women in New York City, the unemployment rate was 18.6 percent in 1990 and among men it was 16 percent--close to twice the rate for the overall City population.

The earnings of Dominican men and women also lag substantially behind those of the general population in New York.

In 1989, the annual earnings of Dominican male workers averaged $15,088, 52 percent of the earnings of the overall male workforce in the City.

For Dominican women, the annual salary averaged $11,347, compared to $20,489 for the overall female workforce.

The report also challenges the view that Dominican immigrants in New York have succeeded economically by generating a dynamic self-employment sector with a myriad of small businesses.

According to the Census data, only 7 percent of Dominicans in the labor force were self-employed in 1990, compared to an overall labor force average in New York City of 8.9 percent and a self-employment rate for whites that stood at 12 percent.

"The 1990 Census data is simply inconsistent with the view that the Dominican population in New York has been thriving economically through a high rate of business creation and self-employment relative to other ethnic and racial groups," said Rivera-Batiz.

"This is not totally surprising since immigrant populations with major business-sector communities also have high levels of educational attainment, something the Dominican population lacks."

According to the report, one of the underlying reasons for the economic difficulties suffered by Dominicans is their comparatively low educational attainment.

As much as 61.5 percent of all Dominican New Yorkers 25 years of age or older had not completed high school in 1990. Only 6.1 percent of the same group had completed college, compared to 24.7 percent of New Yorkers overall.

"The lower relative educational attainment of the Dominican population compared to other groups in New York City explains the high proportion of the population in unskilled, blue-collar jobs," said Agodini.

The proportion of the Dominican labor force employed as operators, laborers and fabricators was the highest in the City, 30.9 percent in 1990.

By comparison, only 9.6 percent of the Dominican population was employed in executive and managerial jobs.

Dominicans are underrepresented in the New York City public sector. Indeed, the researchers reported that "the absence of Dominican workers in government employment should be a matter of immediate attention for policymakers in the City."

Copies of the report, Dominican New Yorkers: A Socioeconomic Profile, 1990, are available from IUME. For more information call 678-3780.

Columbia University Record -- March 10, 1995 -- Vol. 20, No. 20