Hispanic shift in Miami as incomes rise, homelands differ
By Ashley Hopkins
Miami-Dade may be known for its strong Cuban influence, but the Hispanic community is shape-shifting as packs from Central and South America flock to the county, taking a greater piece of the demographic pie.
The number of Colombians and Nicaraguans entering the area has increased, while the number of Cubans has sunk, said Edward Murray, associate director of Florida International University's Metropolitan Center.
While 70.1% of Miami-Dade's Hispanic population was Cuban in 1980, by 2009 this number dropped to 51.3%. According to 2009 US Census estimates, 7.7% of the county's Hispanic population was Colombian, 7.7% was Nicaraguan and 6.6% Puerto Rican.
"We've had more people coming in from other areas," said Robert Schwarzreich, supervisor of demographics for the county's Department of Planning and Zoning. "We're getting different sects of people."
Income levels have been increasing within the county's Hispanic community as well. While the median household income was about $33,536 in 2000, by 2008 the number increased to $40,905. This is 7% less than the county average, according to census estimates. In 2009, income levels dipped slightly, to an average of $38,510 per Hispanic household.
In 2008, 16.4% of Hispanic residents were below the poverty level, mirroring the county's 16.5%. According to census data, this number increased the following year, from 245,614 to 265,675 people.
Many come to the area for economic reasons. While the US has been hit by a tough recession, said Mr. Schwarzreich, other countries have been hit harder. As many have family and friends who have moved to the area, the transition can be comfortable.
"They tend to be in worse conditions than we are." Mr. Schwarzreich said. "There's more economic opportunity here."
Rather than wait for conditions in their home country to improve, Mr. Schwarzreich said, many come to the county in the hopes of starting a small business. According to census estimates, Hispanic-owned firms accounted by 54.9% of all county firms in 2002.
"Our area is a small-business environment, more so than other parts of the country," Mr. Schwarzreich said, adding that about 67% of Miami-Dade businesses have fewer than five employees. "It's relatively easy to start a small business, and most businesses remain small."
Education levels have also increased. In 2000, 38.8% of Hispanic residents hadn't received a high school diploma, according to census estimates. That percentage had decreased to 26.7% by 2009. In 2009, 28.1% had received a high school diploma, up from 21.2% in 2000.
While 18.1% of Hispanic residents had received a bachelor's or professional school degree in 2000, 22.2% had by 2009.
Trends are expected to continue, at a slower pace. While the county's Hispanic community accounts for 62.5% of residents, according to census estimates, levels may slow due to domestic migration. According to Mr. Murray, many Hispanic residents are leaving the area for Broward and Palm Beach counties. Mr. Schwarzreich said more people migrate out of Miami-Dade each year than in.
Despite the numbers, Mr. Schwarzreich doesn't foresee a decrease in the county's Hispanic community. About 40,000 people immigrate in each year, and once they're here, he said, they won't want to leave. "It's harder to go back the longer you live here."