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Latino population on the rise in Missouri

University of Missouri Extension survey shows the Latino population in Missouri is on the rise. Katherine Mayo reports:

As legal and illegal immigrants continue to enter the United States, the Latino population will continue to grow, with many of them coming to the U.S. for jobs.

Missouri has seen its Latino population grow ninety percent over the last ten years. This combined with a 100 percent increase in Oklahoma and Kansas, along with a 300 percent growth in Arkansas, means Latino culture has arrived in the Ozarks.

Dr. Jim Wirth is a Human Development Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension.

"The major reason for that increase is due to employment...and coming here to meet with families...but the major reason is for employment."

Wirth says most compaines that hire Latinos also recruit them.

"There are companies that recruit near the border and inside Mexico...and there is a network of Hispanics who know how to find jobs throughout the country. That's how it works, both informally and formally."

According to a University of Missouri Extension Study done by Wirth, 52 percent of Latinos in southwest Missouri come directly from Mexico, and it's a mix of those here legally and illegally. Wirth says the companies that recruit and hire immigrants do what they can to insure they are hiring only those that are legal.

"They'll hire people on the basis of what documentation there is, whether it's a social security number or so forth. That documentation could be legit or not legit..."

The jobs these immigrants take do not make them wealthy. Wirth's research finds more than half of Missouri's Latino families live on a household income of less than 25,000 dollars a year, and that is with two or more people in the family working full time. Wirth says individual migrant farm workers make around 75 hundred dollars a year.

"How they get along depends on who the employer is. Does the employer provide any housing?...They are very migratory, they move from one place to another. They do, do without."

According to Wirth, those low wages are still well above what Latino immigrants could make in their native country.

"In Mexico its five dollars a day is what you get. And its deprivation and living on the edge. Basically, there's just not the jobs there."

Jim Wirth says immigrant farm workers mean more to the U.S. lifestyle than some may think. Without them working for lower wages, he says the price of food at the grocery store would be higher.

"They'll have to pay higher prices for their food at the grocery store. That's the key thing, its going to hurt them in their own pocketbook. Because the agriculture industry needs them, and has for years."

Wirth says the number of immigrants coming to Missouri will not drop as long as the jobs are available, and the demand for cheap labor remains high. For more information about this University of Missouri Extension study, call 862-9284.