Considered undesirable by many Americans, “brown collar” jobs are those occupations with an overrepresentation of newly arrived Latino immigrants. With low pay and low status, employment in areas such as construction, hospitality, and textile production has been thought to offer few opportunities to earn better wages and learn English (which can, in turn, lead to higher wages).
Describing these workplaces as “linguistic niches” due to the prevalence of Spanish-speakers, Ted Mouw and Sergio Chavez’s complex and novel data analysis showed that brown collar occupations are not necessarily dead end jobs. Analyzing survey and government data—even bringing in a longitudinal element that’s been missing in other research—the authors found that the niches actually enabled some newly arrived immigrants to learn English while getting a foothold in the U.S. labor market.
Mouw and Chavez found that, although immigrant workers initially “sort” into brown collar jobs upon arrival to the U.S., these jobs are not detrimental to wage growth if they are used as a transition to the mainstream labor market—a feat 20% of workers are able to achieve. It’ll be interesting to find out the secret to their success.