Tough American economy forces some Hispanics home

HAMBLEN COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The struggling economy affects us all in different ways, but few areas are feeling the pinch as much as home construction.

Many who build houses can't find work, and that's particularly true for those who moved to this country looking for work.

For a long time, Hispanics have considered this the land of opportunity. And for years, they found opportunity in a booming construction industry.

Now, with Hispanic unemployment rates on the rise, some are getting desperate enough to go back home.

Those who work are the lucky ones. There's construction work to be done, and they're being paid to do it. There are plenty of others begging for work in the same field where employers came begging for their help just a few years ago.

"It's hard for them right now, very, very hard."

Rafael Perez works with Herrco Construction in Hamblen County. When he left Mexico, he came to the United States armed with a university degree in engineering. He says he has seen many uneducated Hispanics come here with a will to work and not much else going for them. Now, his company is feeling the hard times too.

Perez says, "We are not doing the work we have done before. We used to build about ten (to) fifteen houses a year. Now you can just build four or five, no more than that."

What Perez sees locally is even worse on a national scale. Unemployment for Hispanics jumped from 5.5 percent during the first quarter last year to 7.5 percent during the same period this year.

Morristown pastor Federico Aguilar says, "Most of the people, when they do come here, it's life and death."

Federico Aguilar's grandfather came to America in 1913. As a pastor, Aguilar has counseled many who've taken the same journey. He says for some, it's become a roundtrip.

Aguilar says,”Some of them are leaving to go back to Mexico."

Still, Aguilar says most will stay here, even knowing they can't count on construction work.

"They'll still try to find work. They'll still find a job, whether it be in the tomato fields or wherever that will give them an opportunity to work."

Aguilar says staying here may be the best option, because in Mexico and Central American countries, the economy and wages are even worse.

Aguilar says most workers in those countries only make about $50 a week.

That helps explain the revolving door that leaves some coming and going more than once.

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