updated 2/23/2004 4:59:06 PM ET 2004-02-23T21:59:06

The unemployment rate for Hispanics jumped to 7.3 percent in January, reversing a decline over the second half of 2003, according to a private analysis of government data.


The January rate for Latinos was up from 6.6 percent in December, said the study released Monday by the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based research group. The report cited more people entering or re-entering the labor force and looking for work as a main reason for the increase.


If economic conditions further improve, a surge in labor force participation among Hispanics could increase unemployment numbers, researcher Rakesh Kochhar said in the study.


The Labor Department earlier this month reported the national unemployment rate, regardless of race or ethnicity, dipped slightly from 5.7 percent in December to 5.6 percent in January.


The Hispanic rate had been in decline over the last half of 2003 after having peaked at 8.2 percent last June.


Immigrant males, especially the most recently arrived, showed the greatest increase in employment over the last six months of 2003, and the construction industry accounted for over half of the total Latino job gains.


Overall, there were 17.7 million employed Hispanics at the end of 2003, up 659,000 from end of 2002.
By comparison, the number of employed non-Hispanics was much larger — 121 million — but that number grew by just 371,000 during the same period.


That trend suggests Latinos took a disproportionate share of new job opportunities last year, Kochhar said.


But the report also said the decrease in the Hispanic unemployment rate in 2003 was also due to a large number of discouraged workers having given up trying to find work. Those workers are no longer considered “participating in the labor force.”


Economic growth must be stronger and spread across more sectors in the economy “before it proves beneficial to all segments of the Latino work force,” Kochhar wrote.


The percentage of working-age Latinos either working or looking for a job fell from 68.8 percent in December 2002 to about 67.5 percent a year later, before rising again to 68.1 percent in January.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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