Mexican-American Professionals in Municipal Administration : Do They Really Lag Behind in Terms of Education, Seniority, and On-the-Job Training?

By Ortega-Liston, Ramona | Public Personnel Management, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Mexican-American Professionals in Municipal Administration : Do They Really Lag Behind in Terms of Education, Seniority, and On-the-Job Training?


Ortega-Liston, Ramona, Public Personnel Management


Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic population in the United States. By the year 2025, they will be the single largest minority group in the country.[1] Sometimes referred to as the "sleeping giant," Americans of Mexican descent are the dominant ethnic group within the Hispanic subculture. Sizable populations of Mexican-Americans reside in California, Texas, Illinois, and Arizona. Research on Mexican-American professionals is scarce, since they have not been identified specifically as "Mexican-Americans" in studies about career advancement. Instead, they have been lumped together with all Hispanics, or, in some instances, with all minorities.[2] It is questionable whether previous research accurately describes, explains, and predicts the careers of this growing subculture of the American workforce. It is important to know more about this growing group of professionals who will help to shape public policy for themselves and the nation in the next millennium.

Since Mexican-Americans have not been identified specifically as Mexican-Americans in studies about career advancement, little is known about this emerging group of municipal administrators. In this study, Anglo/whites and black administrators serve as comparison groups for Mexican-American administrators. Other groups, such as Native Americans and Asians are not included because they comprise only 1.9 percent and 1.6 percent of the Phoenix population, and 1.6 percent and 2.2 percent of the population of Tucson, respectively.[3]

Data collection was accomplished through self-administered questionnaires and interviews with City of Phoenix and City of Tucson administrators and officers of the City of Phoenix Hispanic Network, a chapter of the International-City/County Management Association (ICMA). Self-administered questionnaires were distributed to Mexican-American, black, and Anglo/white administrators in three citywide job categories: executives (upper-managers), professionals (middle-managers), and supervisors (lower-managers). In interviews for this study, some Mexican-American administrators suggest that they perceive that Mexican-Americans have been overlooked for new hires and promotions. These perceptions are consistent with the finding by Sisneros (1993) that Hispanics, as a group, remain underrepresented at all levels of public administration.[4] Interview sessions revealed also that Mexican-American managers perceive that they are overlooked in favor of other minority groups -- even though they are the dominant minority group in both cities. Interminority competition and jobs are described by Alozie and Ramirez (1999),[5] but that issue is beyond the scope of this study.

Several explanations have been advanced to explain why Mexican-Americans lag behind blacks and women in municipal employment. Some researchers suggest that Hispanics are less well educated than Anglo/whites and blacks. Research shows that Hispanic youth have the highest incidence of school dropout rates in the nation -- twice the rate for black students and three times as high as Anglo/white students.[6] It is suggested that only 55 percent of all Hispanics complete high school, while 75 percent of blacks and 82 percent of non-Hispanic Anglo/white students graduate from high school.[7] Others suggest that Hispanics, as a group, receive little mentoring, have fewer opportunities to participate in on-the-job-training (OJT), and suffer from having acquired little workplace seniority.[8] Access to quality education, seniority, OJT, and English-proficiency are the most frequently cited reasons used to explain differences in the career successes of Hispanics and Anglo/whites.[9]

Variables such as education, seniority, mentoring, and OJT have been shown to contribute to the career advancement of other groups. Earlier studies, such as that by Taussig & Joslyn (1932) and Warner & Abegglen (1955), found that education, seniority, mentoring, and OJT are among the variables contributing to the careers of thousands of American businessmen. …

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