Schooling improves Dominican-Americans’ employment and income, reports CCNY-led study

Financing March 2022 PREMIUM
Dominican-Americans are enjoying significant strides in the labor market, according to a study led by the Dominican Studies Institute at CCNY.

By Jay Mwamba, CCNY, CUNY -


Dominicans in the United States have made a substantial leap forward in socioeconomic progress over the last two decades concludes a new research report by The City College of New York-based CUNY Dominican Studies Institute (DSI).

The study is co-authored by Ramona Hernández, Director of the DSI; Columbia University economist Francisco L. Rivera-Batiz, and Sidie Sisay, a DSI researcher. It is the first, up-to-date detailed study of the socioeconomic status of Dominicans in the U.S. They used recently-released data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The average household income per person among Dominicans in 2019, the study finds, was 43 percent higher than in 1999, when adjusted by inflation. This caused a sharp drop of poverty rates as well. In 1999, as much as 27.5 percent of all Dominicans in the U.S. lived in poverty. By 2019 this had dropped to 19.0 percent. Although still unacceptably high, the decline in poverty rates among Dominicans over the last 20 years is the largest of any of the various racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.

The big change, according to the study, centers on labor force participation that’s boosted the employment rates and income gains of Dominicans nationally.

“For both men and women, the labor force participation rates among Dominicans have been climbing rapidly during the last two decades,” said Hernández. “Back in 2000, the labor force participation rates among Dominicans were substantially lower than those prevailing in the overall American population. Today, they are significantly above those for the overall population of the U.S.”

She noted that the proportion of Dominican men in the labor force in 2019 was 74.4 %, decidedly higher than the overall male national labor force participation rate  of 68.6 %. Among Dominican women, 64.7 % were counted in the labor market as of 2019, above the overall national rate for women of 58.8 %. 

“In fact, Dominican women have the highest female labor force participation rate in the country, higher than the average for any other major racial and ethnic group,” Hernández pointed out.

Still, this Dominican progress in the labor market was tempered by COVID-19 pandemic whose impact was magnified in a group largely represented in the service sector that was heavily affected by the lockdowns and closures.

The DSI study determined that the unemployment rate among Dominicans rose from an average of 6.5 % in 2019 to a whopping 30 % in April and May of 2020 because of the pandemic. In contrast, the overall unemployment rate in the U.S. rose from 4.5 % in 2019 to 13.8 % in April and May of 2020. Since then, unemployment has gradually declined. For Dominicans, the unemployment rate dropped from 20.8 % in June-July of 2020 to 6.9 percent in Oct.-Nov. 2021, while nationally, over the same period, it fell from 10.8 % to 4.2 %.

Education has been the key driver in this Dominican success story, propelled by the increased schooling of Dominicans born in the United States. According to the study, U.S.-born Dominicans have now surpassed the overall U.S. population in educational attainment. For women, in the period of 2015-2019, as much as 34.6 % of U.S.-born Dominicans had received a college degree and 31.6 % had completed some college education (but not a college degree), which adds up to 66.2 % who had some college education or more. For the overall female population in the U.S., the equivalent proportions are 32.5 % for college graduates and 23.5 % for those with some college, adding up to 56 percent.

For U.S.-born Dominican men, 23 % had a college degree and 29.2 % had completed some college education (but not a college degree), adding up to 52.2 percent with some college education or more. This is approximately the same as for the U.S. male population overall, which had a 53.2 percent with some college education or more. 

"Increased education is intimately connected to higher earnings and lower unemployment,” said study co-author Francisco L. Rivera-Batiz. “The evidence shows that the rate of return to education, particularly to a college education, is high and rising over time. For economic and social development, investing in increased schooling is a slam dunk." 

Dominicans are also investing heavily in the human capital of their youth. U.S.-born Dominicans have significantly higher enrollment rates in school or universities than U.S.-born Hispanics in general and all the major Hispanic sub-groups, except Cubans.

Other findings of the study are that:

The Dominican population in the U.S. increased from 1,041,910 in 2000 to 2,216,258 in 2020, making them the fifth-largest Hispanic/Latino group in the nation after Mexican Americans/Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Salvadoreans and Cubans.

U.S.-born Dominicans now account for 42.2 % of all Dominicans in U.S.

The largest concentration of Dominicans continues to be in the state of New York, home of an estimated 897,584 Dominicans in 2020.  

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