Vermont Business Development and Labor Force Participation
The quality of the education of Vermont’s Latinos and their ability to speak English well predicts their strong participation in the labor market. Vermont’s employment rate of all ethno-racial groups between the ages of 18 through 64 (excluding those in school) was high consistently above 90 percent. Only Puerto Ricans (82.8 percent) are below non-Latino whites (94.4 percent). Vermont’s Latinos did not have as many family members who were employed. Latinos (2.0 members) had fewer family members working than non-Latino whites
(2.2 members) or Asians (2.2 members). The hourly wage rate of Latinos slightly lags behind non-Latino whites ($17.74) and Asians ($19.38). Cubans were the highest-earning Latino group on average, earning $16.11 an hour, followed by Puerto Ricans ($14.13), Mexicans ($11.04), and Peruvians ($8.45).
Latino employment patterns in Vermont are somewhat different than in other states. Latinos did not appear drawn to Vermont to find blue-collar employment in precision, craft, or repair occupations or as a machine operator, fabricator, or laborer but instead find employment in the state’s service sector. There was a significant drop in the proportion of Latinos working in blue-collar jobs during the 1990s. Latino workers instead found service sector jobs. Also, Latinos have had some success in starting businesses. The 1997 U.S. Census Bureau’s Economic Census reported that Vermont had 157 Latino-owned businesses that employed 1,551 workers. The majority of these businesses were in the service industries.4
These service industry businesses have successfully highlighted Latino cultural contributions, but Vermont does not have any Latino-run social-service agencies to support arriving Latinos. Vermont has attracted Latinos who are in the entertainment industry (see the following Notable Latinos section), and one of Vermont’s most visible Latino businesses is Hermanos Productions. It was founded in 1989 with the mission to provide the community of Chittenden County with music and dance that highlighted the rich and colorful Latino culture. Hermanos Productions now provides entertainment to all of New England. However, Latinos lament that they have not been successful in initiating any Latino social-service agencies. Latinos also note that there are no Latino restaurants or bookstores in the state.
Latino migrants are playing a significant role in keeping Vermont’s dairy farms operational. Migrants from Mexico and Guatemala are increasingly helping to supply the labor for these farms. Estimates range that up to 2,000 Latino migrants are working in Vermont’s dairy industry.5 This work is physically demanding and requires long hours; over the last ten years, Vermont’s owners have found it difficult to attract native-born workers for these jobs. Many of these migrants work for as little as eight dollars an hour and work 60 to 70 hours a week.
Some people in Vermont believe this labor supply is important to preserve Vermont’s rural landscape.6 They express concern that anti-immigrant attitudes will harm dairy farms in Vermont. In order to ensure that Latinos continue working on dairy farms, structural supports have been developed to help both the farmers and the Latino migrants. Attempting to limit problems with communication, University of Vermont (UVM) and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture joined forces to develop the Vermont Dairy Spanish Project, with the help of a United States Department of Agriculture grant. Vermont farmers are offered a four-week intensive Spanish-language course that focuses on specific dairy industry
phrases. The program has been well received by the dairy farmers, who have found they can communicate better with their Latino employees.