The Latino Gap in STEM Jobs and How to Fix It


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As a result of COVID-19 and systemic injustice, Latinos are not faring well in the job market.

Worse, Latinos are experiencing the widest gap in one of the nation’s fastest-growing fields — a career in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

The depth of the gap could consign Latinos to lower-paying jobs, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center.

“Black and Latino workers remain underrepresented in the STEM workforce compared with their share of all workers, including in computing jobs, which have seen considerable growth in recent years,” the Pew researchers state.

What Is the Latino Gap in STEM Jobs?

Latinos make up 17% of the overall workforce in the U.S.

However, they only make up 8% of those employed in STEM fields.

STEM jobs are “any of 74 standard occupations in life sciences, physical and Earth sciences, engineering, and architecture, computer and math occupations as well as health-related occupations including healthcare providers and technicians,” according to Pew.Latino Science Student Education

Latinos are underrepresented in each of these STEM jobs:

  • Health (9%)
  • Life science (8%)
  • Math (8%)
  • Physical science (8%)
  • Computer (8%)
  • Engineering (9%)

Also, recent growth in the Latino STEM workforce isn’t drastic.

“[The Latino] share of all STEM workers is up 1% since 2016, in line with their growth in the overall workforce,” according to Pew researchers.

Why Is There a Latino Gap in STEM Jobs?

Pew examines the educational pathway to find an answer.

Unfortunately, current trends in STEM degree attainment appear unlikely to substantially narrow the Latino gap in STEM jobs, Pew researchers state.

“Black and Hispanic adults are less likely to earn degrees in STEM than other degree fields, and they continue to make up a lower share of STEM graduates relative to their share of the adult population,” the researchers state.

The fact is that Latinos are underrepresented among STEM college graduates compared with their share in the population. A smaller share earns degrees in a STEM field than in other degree programs.

As of 2018, the most recent year available, Pew found:

  • Black students earned 7% of STEM bachelor’s degrees, below their share of all bachelor’s degrees (10%) or their share of the adult population (12%).
  • The share of Latino college graduates with a STEM degree (12%) remains lower than that for all college graduates (15%) in 2018.
  • Latinos earned 9% of master’s degrees and 6% research doctorates in STEM. This is lower than their 11% share of master’s degrees and 8% of research doctorates in any field.

This is unfortunate because “STEM occupations, which tend to be higher-paying, are projected to grow in the next decade, especially in computer science and information security,” according to Pew researchers.

And even if Latinos do get STEM jobs, they’re often paid less.

“The typical Hispanic worker in STEM earns about $65,000, or 83% of the typical White worker in STEM,” Pew researchers state. “Here too, the gap has widened: In 2016, the Hispanic-to-White pay gap in the STEM workforce was 85%.”

What Can We Do to Address the Latino Gap in STEM Jobs?

Policy change is needed to help Latino workers, according to Heidi Shierholz, former chief economist with the Labor Department under the Obama administration. 

latina girl coding robotics STEM“Because people of color were disproportionately hit by this downturn, as we’re recovering from this, workers of color see disproportionate gains,” Shierholz, a senior economist and policy director at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, told CNBC.

A recent UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (UCLA LPPI) report recently illustrated this gap through an analysis of the Latina nurse workforce.

Concerning how change can come, the report suggests:

  • Increase the minimum wage.
  • Strengthen the social safety net by increasing childcare support, introducing mandatory paid family leave, and expanding the child tax credit.
  • Strengthen skills training and education programs to create greater access to higher-wage careers in which workers are less susceptible to losing jobs due to automation

“In quantifying the loss in labor for Latinas relative to other groups, the UCLA report provides evidence that inequities that existed before COVID-19 remain. Returning to pre-pandemic conditions in the U.S. workforce will still leave millions of Latinas without access to true economic opportunity and social mobility, which ultimately would diminish the nation’s long-term competitiveness,” according to the report.

Bringing more Latinos into college is also critical. Here are some ways to help:

Education experts suggest investing in community college programs that help residents earn a high school equivalency credential and get on a pathway to higher education.

What Can You Do to Address the Latino Gap in STEM Jobs?

Find out how equitable education is for Latino students in your area.

Download a Health Equity Report Card from Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.

With the report card, you can find maps and data visualizations on rates of adults with no high school diploma, data on preschool enrollment, and the rate of high school graduation as well as dropouts.

You can then email your Health Equity Report Card to school and community leaders, share on social, and build the case to address education issues in at-risk areas!


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