Occupational Patterns of Dominican Immigrants to New York

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As with income, the occupational outlook for Dominicans appears bleak at first sight. Despite this, over time, there has been steady, gradual improvement. Of course, there’s no escaping the facts, so let’s step back and take a brief dispassionate look.


Unfortunately, unemployment is more prevalent among Dominican Americans than the general American population. Among men, the unemployment ratio stands at 7.8%, as opposed to the country average of 3.9% (for males). As you can see, it’s twice as high as that for the entire country! Within the female population it’s even worse, with the unemployment rate at 10.7% versus the national average of 4.1%, two-and-a-half times as bad!

And why are the unemployment rates so high? Well, there are several factors. The many single-parent households within the Dominican community, more than any other ethnic group, contribute to this. Remember, as Dominican society is patriarchal, usually, the man of the household is the breadwinner. So in single-parent families where the father has left, his wife, who may never have worked before, is forced to find a job. In these female-headed families, the mother may have little or no job experience, or have younger children to care for - thus making it either extremely difficult or impossible for her to work.

Another reason for the high employment rate is that many Dominicans have been forced to switch professions. In 1980, about half of all working Dominicans were involved in manufacturing, by 2000 it was down to 12.4%. So, all the individuals who used to be employed in manufacturing, now have to branch into other sectors. Often, this means a non-unionized, low-status job, with little job security.

If we follow their economic history, the situation appears a little brighter. Even though the employment rates seem relatively high, they showed marked improvement over 90’s. Actually, in 1990, the rates were 15.7% for males, and 18.4% for women, so there has been a lot of improvement, which, hopefully, will continue. Additionally, all the figures used here came from the 2000 census, so it is to be hoped that the 2009 census will show some improvement.


The majority of the Dominican workforce is young and unskilled, working in low-paid, low-status jobs. Only 17.3% of the population holds managerial, technical, or professional positions, again far less than the national average. The number of Dominicans with college degrees (a little over 21%) is also less than the national average (24%). And, even though only a fifth of the population has a college degree, 21%, when compared to US born Mexican-Americans (13%), and Puerto Ricans (12%), the other two major Hispanic populations, is a pretty good average. Once again, we're in a situation where, statistically, Dominicans aren't doing too well, but, when compared to their past, and other ethnic groups, they may have done a great job.

It is painfully obvious that the community lacks professionals. In the past, many teachers, doctors, and other professionals fled the harsh regime of Dictator Trujillo, opting to emigrate. Of course, the island has been politically stable for some time now. Without a reason to leave, the flow of immigrating Dominican professionals has virtually halted. Even as the flow of professionals slowed, there was a dramatic rise in the number of labourers arriving. The vast majority worked in manufacturing, though many also went to hotels and restaurants. 40% made less than $150 weekly, 45% worked in non-unionized workplaces - earning less than most Americans without any protection from fraudulent employers. Unfortunately, a stagnant position with low wages in the secondary labour market is still an unpleasant reality. You can have your pick as to reasons why. Perhaps it's the language barrier; or racial discrimination; or lack of higher education; or illegal status - most likely a combination of all four factors.

For Dominican women the situation is worse. Most are employed in the "informal sector" of garment manufacture, employed in small non-unionized firms. This means working for low wages, and little job security or protection - which leaves one open to harrassment. For those who forgo this choice, a job outside of the organized labour market, maybe as a housekeeper or maid or handy-woman (doing odd-jobs), is often the only other choice.

But the Dominican American community is still in its fledgling state, with large numbers of first-generation immigrants. Plus, older immigrant communities like the Irish, and Germans also struggled at first. The new generation of Dominican Americans, born and raised in the U.S. shows great promise, with many from this class pursuing higher education and better-paying jobs. And the employment picture isn't bleak on all fronts. Most of the bodegas (tiny independent neighbourhood cornershops) here in the City are owned or operated by Dominicans. The well-known C'Town Group reports that half of its 167 small grocery stores are owned and operated by Dominicans, and other, similar associations within New York have said the same.

So, while the employment outlook is bleak, it is definitely not hopeless.