By: Phillip Arroyo
On this edition of Puerto Rico Democrat Corner, we will take an in depth glimpse of the fastest growing Puerto Rican population in the continental United States.
For the first time ever, the number of Puerto Ricans in New York declined in the 1990s.
Correspondingly, the proportion of Puerto Ricans has increased in other states, especially in Florida.
During the 1990s, Florida displaced New Jersey as the second largest concentration of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. mainland (after New York).
Florida’s Puerto Rican population grew from slightly more than 2 percent of all stateside Puerto Ricans in 1960 to more than 14 percent in the year 2000.
The number of Puerto Rican residents in Florida rose from 482,027 in 2000 to 571,755 persons in 2003.
Within Florida, Puerto Ricans have settled in three main regions.
In 2003, more than 206,000 persons of Puerto Rican origin lived in the Central Florida, particularly in Orange, Osceola, Volusia, Seminole, and Polk counties.
A secondary concentration is found in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, with about 155,000 Puerto Ricans.
A third cluster has emerged around the Tampa Bay area, especially in Hillsborough County, with almost 68,000 Puerto Ricans.
The earliest recorded movement of Puerto Ricans to Florida consisted of a small number of agricultural business owners who settled in the Miami area in the 1940s.
The first large-scale movement of Puerto Ricans to Florida took place in the 1950s under the contract farm worker program sponsored by the Migration Division of Puerto Rico’s Department of Labor.
By then, the class composition of Puerto Rican migration to South Florida had shifted predominantly toward the working class.
During the 1970s, Puerto Rican government officials negotiated contracts for hundreds of seasonal workers with sugar growers in Florida.
Nearly three-fourths of Puerto Ricans in the Orlando area had completed a high school education.
Contrary to popular stereotypes, U.S.-born Puerto Ricans tend to be better educated than those born on the Island.
Employment and Economical Data
Puerto Ricans in Central Florida concentrate overwhelmingly in trade and services, particularly in retail trade, arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, food services, education, health, and social services.
In 1999, 33.3 percent of all Puerto Rican families in Central Florida earned more than $50,000 a year.
The median family income of Puerto Ricans in Central Florida ($33,500) was more than double that of residents of Puerto Rico ($16,543).
In 1997, Puerto Ricans in the Orlando metropolitan area owned 2,429 businesses, primarily in the service industry.
This economic boom has attracted many Island-based companies to the area.
Despite their achievements, Puerto Ricans have not attained socioeconomic parity with other major ethnic groups in Central Florida.
Most Puerto Ricans in the United States have traditionally voted for the Democratic Party.
In 2004, Puerto Ricans in Florida supported Senator John Kerry over President George W. Bush by a margin of two to one.
The Puerto Rican population boom has not yet translated into proportional representation in state politics.