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Minority job-seekers feel pinch of recession the hardest

Joaquin Gutierrez is No. 80 on the list of 120 men eager to move furniture, weed gardens, haul trash, paint walls - almost anything at all for $10 an hour.

But on this day, there are just 11 jobs for the men waiting, hands in pockets, in the chilly parking lot outside the San Francisco Day Labor Program trailers.

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The recession has been tough for many people, but for blacks and Hispanics, the economic pinch has been even sharper.

Experts say that's because they tend to be the last hired and first fired. Blacks and Hispanics have also been particularly vulnerable to the recession because many work in manufacturing, air transportation, hotels, and temporary-employment services - industries among the hardest hit by the downturn.

The recession's blow to minorities was apparent in the latest national jobless report, released Friday. For Hispanics, the rate for December was 7.9 percent, the highest it's been since July 1997. The jobless rate for blacks was 10.2 percent - twice that of whites.

"The black population is more working-class than the white population, and it's working-class jobs that are more often lost during recession," says David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank focusing on black issues.

Bill Spriggs, director of the National Urban League's Institute for Opportunity and Equality, sees something else behind the disparities: bias. That is especially apparent in a downturn, he says. "When the economy slows down, suddenly, from an employer's perspective, there are enough white applicants."

At the day-laborer center here, the jobs available each day have shrunk from an average of 12 before Sept. 11, to five. Not surprising, minority advocates are urging Washington to expand unemployment insurance to part-time workers and to suspend time limits on welfare benefits until the recession ends.