Esther Cepeda

If you feel like academic researchers waste time studying information that seems obvious, you’re not alone.

For instance, a recent paper published on the website of the Economic Policy Institute concludes that whites continue to out-earn and have lower rates of unemployment than Hispanics.

This has been the case for about four decades so will probably come as no surprise to anyone.

Still, we can’t simply acknowledge these sad facts and move on. The details of the data tell a few stories that can guide us in shaping policy for the fastest-growing demographic segment of our workforce.

For example, the study shows that Hispanic men had a 4.7 percent unemployment rate in 2017, nearly closing the gap with all men (who had a combined 4.4 percent unemployment rate).

However, Hispanic women haven’t fared as well: Their 2017 unemployment rate was 5.7 percent, much higher than the rate for all women (4.3 percent).

And both men and women of Hispanic heritage are valued less than their white counterparts in the workplace, even after adjusting for education level, according to the report, which is titled “The Hispanic-white wage gap has remained wide and relatively steady.”

“Attaining a college education has not closed the average Hispanic-white wage gap. In 2016, Hispanic women with ... a bachelor’s degree or more education ... made 36.4 percent less than white men with a college education, which is a just slightly narrower pay gap than in 1980 (37.7 percent) and is essentially the same as the pay gap between Hispanic women and white men with less than a high school education (those who have not obtained a high school diploma or equivalent) in 2016 (36.3 percent),” wrote the study’s co-authors, Marie T. Mora, professor of economics at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and Alberto Davila, professor of economics at Southeast Missouri State University.

The study adds that “Hispanic men with a college education had a much narrower pay gap with white college-educated men in 2016 (20.1 percent), but that is considerably wider than in 1980 (12.3 percent) and wider than the pay gap between Hispanic men with less than a high school diploma and similarly educated white men in 2016 (14.9 percent).”

The worst news is that we still have a long way to go in helping Latinos attain college degrees, Mora told me.

“It is positive that Hispanics are gaining in educational attainment over time,” Mora said. “But at the same time, other groups are also gaining, so the gap is not closing. In fact, depending on the metric you’re looking at, some gaps have widened.”

Mora added that in some places around the country — such as south Texas, where she currently lives — the number of Latinos ages 25-64 who are college graduates is trending downward. And this is not due to immigration — it is occurring among U.S.-born Hispanics.

“What it says to me is that much more needs to be done to invest in education in the Hispanic population,” Mora said. “The U.S. Latino population is now being driven by second-generation, U.S.-born Hispanics, and if a larger population is underinvested in education, it does not bode well for a significant portion of the population.”

What else can we do to help Latinos economically?

Stop lumping them all together into one, monolithic “Hispanic community” — it doesn’t exist.

“One of the other important takeaways of our study is that if you don’t disaggregate the data, it’ll usually reflect the experience of Mexican-Americans, but not provide information that’s necessarily applicable to subgroups,” Mora said.

Puerto Rican men, for example, have higher unemployment rates than men of other nationalities and lower labor force participation rates than other Latinos. In contrast, Cuban-Americans do better than other Latinos on a variety of economic variables like income and education.

And other subgroups, such as those from El Salvador, are growing in number, but researchers don’t have a lot of historical data to work with to uncover long-term trends.Obviously, none of these bits of information are particularly uplifting — but thank goodness we have them.

Instead of getting bummed every time a dispiriting report on the fortunes of Hispanics in America floats by, we should see it for what it is: an opportunity to learn how to make policies that will help everyone in the country prosper.

Esther Cepeda’s email address is