By Rebecca Harshbarger
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Latina beauty salons throughout the U.S. are providing an employment lifeline to a group of female workers who have been badly hurt by the recession. One owner in Queens, N.Y., hopes to add English classes to her new cosmology school.
NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--Here in Woodside, Queens, Carmen Ledesma employs nine women in her Parisien Beauty Salon, a business she started 16 years ago on Roosevelt Avenue after moving to the United States from Paraguay.
For a mother of three with limited English skills, it turned out to be a good way to make an income, something the New York mayor's office noted in early October at a press conference about the city's efforts to support immigrant-owned businesses in New York, which hosts an estimated 130,000 Latino-owned businesses.
At the City University of New York's Graduate Center, city officials asked Ledesma to precede Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the press conference's speaker lineup to describe how she expanded her business, going from an employee at one salon to starting her own small salon. She has since added a spa and opened a cosmology school, a storefront with large glass windows in a multistory building, which she created with help from a government-supported small business initiative.
"Since I opened the door to my salon, many immigrant women have seen that they can open their own business," said Ledesma. "I have achieved one of my dreams, and sent three children to college."
The Center for Women's Business Research, based in McLean, Va., says Latinas owned over 700,00 businesses nationwide in 2007 and generated about $46 billion in sales. Between 1993 and 2006, the number of Latina-owned businesses more than doubled.
Overall, female-owned companies employ 16 percent of the U.S. work force and contribute $3 trillion to the almost $14 trillion U.S. economy, according to the center.
"I don't know the statistics, but I would suspect that you would be shocked by how many immigrants' small businesses are run by women," Bloomberg said at the press conference in response to a question by Women's eNews. "If you help out small businesses, you will do an awful lot for women. We saw that with Carmen and her beauty salon."
The Latino work force has been badly hurt by the recession, according to a February 2009 report by the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center. Between 2007 and 2008, the jobless rate for immigrant Latinos rose to 8 percent from around 5 percent and for U.S.-born Latinos it rose to 9.5 percent from 6.7 percent.
A slowdown in the construction industry has caused much grief for Latino households. In Woodside, along Roosevelt Avenue, near Ledesma's salon, day laborers who used to find work readily in the mornings by waiting near the subway can now go weeks without a day of construction or restaurant work, according to interviews by Women's eNews.
Even before the recession, two years ago, Latinas were still twice as likely as non-Hispanic women to live in poverty, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
At this same time, however, the fastest growing segment in small businesses are Latina-owned companies, according to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a nongovernmental organization based in Washington, D.C.
Among these small businesses, beauty salons have proven resilient because they are so popular in many Latino communities, often acting as a social hub.
Latinas are more likely than any other social group in the United States to visit hair salons and cosmetic counters, and spend more on cosmetic products overall than other groups of women, according to Yankelovich Partners, a consumer research company in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Ledesma's business is small, earning about a $100,000 a year, and she receives about 20 customers daily.
In a phone interview, she said that she hopes her cosmology school can help other Latinas get a foothold in the business world by starting their own salons in the city.
"I'm really proud to open a school, and I hope that I can help other women start their own projects and businesses," she said.
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