Large American cities like Miami, Los Angeles, and Houston, are well known for their significant Latino\Hispanic populations, but cities like New York and Chicago also have significant and growing Latino populations. Most recent estimates put the Latino population in New York City at about 2.5 million persons or 29% of the city’s population. This population is largely comprised of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, each making up about 29% of the Latino population and together represent close to half the Latinos in New York City. Mexicans are now the third largest group representing about 14% of the Latino population, and the remaining 23% are from countries in Central and South America. Between 2000 and 2015, the Latino population in New York City grew by more than 14%, with 58% of the Latinos born in the U.S. and 42% born outside of the country.
There have been a variety of academic publications on the evolution of the Hispanic\Latino population in New York City (see references below). More recently, an overall assessment of the Latino condition in the recent volume by Haslip-Viera and Baver (2017) break down the history and development of the Hispanic\Latino community in New York City into four periods: a) before 1900, with the pioneers, b) between 1900 to 1945 setting the foundations and roots in several communities and industries, c) from 1945 to 1965/70 an era of mass growth in the Puerto Rican and other Latino populations, and d) 1965 to the present with the increasing diversification of the Hispanic community in New York City.
Before 1900, most of the Latinos that immigrated into New York were predominantly involved in commerce, trade, and in various service, craft, and production-related skills. Many were political exiles who congregated in the city to earn a living, flee persecution, and further their political activities and engagement with their countries of origin. In the second phase between 1900 to 1945 there was a definitive “Antillean Orientation” (Haspip-Viera and Baver 2017) to New York City’s Latino community. The continued political, commercial, economic, and social ties between New York City and the Caribbean region expanded migratory ties and flows from the region. New York City served as the administrative and commercial center of contact with the islands of the Caribbean and numerous investments, corporate relations, and other commercial and personal ties expanded. These facilitated and sustained the early and continuous migration processes from Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and the other islands of the Caribbean.
The Growing Population
The third phase of Hispanic\Latino growth in New York City, between 1945 and 1965, was characterized by large waves of Puerto Rican migration and the building-out from small settlements into large communities throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. The garment industry, general manufacturing, and various personal and professional services employed large proportions of the Puerto Rican and growing Dominican populations, and, as the populations grew, they diversified into other sectors of the economy. The fourth phase of Latino settlement in New York City started around 1965 and provided significant growth and diversification of the Latino population. Sustained by migration flows from Latin America and the Caribbean, larger settlements were formed from several countries, including the Dominican Republic, the Andean region of South America including Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru, in addition to new flows from Mexico and Honduras. Migration from Latin America and the non-Hispanic Caribbean into New York City between 1970 and 2011 grew significantly. In 1970 there were approximately 211,000 immigrants from Latin America and the Hispanic Caribbean and another 113,000 from the non-Hispanic Caribbean. By 1990, there were close to 574,151 immigrants from Latin America and Hispanic Caribbean countries and another 410,532 from the non-Hispanic Caribbean. The Latino and Caribbean populations grew significantly to almost a million people born in Latin America and Hispanic Caribbean, not including Puerto Rico (City of New York 2013).
Changes in the Latino population in New York City since 1965 can be divided into two phases: a) between 1965 and 2001, a period of sustained growth in the foreign-born population from 1.4 million, or 18.2% of the City’s population in 1970, to 2.8 million. or 35.9% of the city’s population, with 800,000 of the foreign-born coming in the decade between 1990 and 2000; and b) between 2001 and the present where migration levels have slowed down and the focus, after the 9/11 attacks, has been on “national security and local law enforcement.” The total population in New York has been hovering around 8.3 million persons and the number of foreign-born is about 3 million persons, or 37.2% of the city’s population.
Recent Trends in the Latino Population
Over the last four decades, the racial\ethnic\national origin composition of immigrants has changed significantly. New York City’s population is much more diverse now than in the past and includes significant contingents from Latin America, Asia, South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. In terms of the Latino population, there have also been numerous significant trends that are worth highlighting.
First, there have been changes in the proportion of New York City’s population that is of Latino origin and Hispanics have become a higher proportion of the population in New York City over time—up to 29% of the current total.
Second, there have been notable changes in the composition of the Latino population in New York City as Hispanics have become much more diverse. Puerto Ricans used to be the dominant group (upwards to 70% in the 1970s) but at present they comprise slightly less than a third of Hispanics, similar to the number of Dominicans, but there are growing proportions of Mexicans, Ecuadorians Colombians, Peruvians, and other South and Central Americans that make up a more diverse Latino population.
Third, there is variation in the migration experiences of different Latino populations. There are notable differences among the groups and between Latinos and non-Latinos in New York City in age structure, educational characteristics, engagement in the labor market, access to different occupations and industries, incomes and earnings, and in poverty levels.
The Latino population in New York City continues to face significant challenges in education at the K-12 level, particularly in differences in the dropout rate, access to specialized schools, and access to college. While more Latino youth are entering the university, they still do so at rates much lower than other groups, and the completion and graduation rates continue to lag.
In terms of employment, there are significant differences in labor force participation between the various Latino groups with Puerto Ricans, on one end, having relatively low labor force participation levels and Mexicans, at the other extreme, with the highest participation rates in New York City. And, while there are differences in access to employment, Latinos in New York City tend to concentrate in low-wage jobs and occupations and have less access to managerial jobs and the higher-paying occupations. Poverty rates for Latinos are the highest at 33% for Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, and 34% for Mexicans, the three largest Latino groups. The poverty rate for other Hispanics is similar to the 22% rate for the Black population, but higher than the 19% for the Asian population and the 13% for the white population in New York City.
There are a range of policy issues that have a particular impact on the Latino population in New York City, including migration policy, education structures and policies, labor market structure policies, changes in social welfare policy, changes in criminal justice policy, and the evolution of community-based organizations. As the Latino community in New York City develops, there are country-specific dynamics that dominate discussions within various Latino groups, In addition, there are evolving intergroup dynamics where the relationships within the various immigrant groups are managed more systematically.
In fact, one bright spot in the development of the Latino community of New York City has been the proliferation of community-based organizations that were established to help manage the migration process and provide a range of social services that assist in the socioeconomic and cultural adaptation and incorporation of Latino immigrants. These groupsrepresent community interests, engage in advocacy on a range of issues, organize the community and community events, articulate the community’s needs to policymakers, and manage resources into community programs. Many of the Latino community-based organizations have developed connections to the countries and regions of origin and are also a resource for them in the United States. At the same time, these groups engage in exchanges of information, goods, services, and in multiple visits and transnational ties that maintain the links between immigrant communities in New York City and their families, communities, and countries of origin.
The Latino community in New York is young, growing, and poised to become a major economic and political force in the city. The community faces significant challenges in housing affordability; inclusive community economic development that helps build community and does not displace them; and a political class that, while it has grown, has failed to address the broader needs of the Latino community in a systematic, concerted, and sustained way.
New York City can be characterized by an expression that anthropologist Gordon Lewis used to describe the Caribbean many decades ago “a multilayered pigmentocracy,” and the role the growing Latino community will continue to play in New York City is growing and evolving. What is clear is that unless systematic efforts are made to reduce levels of inequality and poverty in the Latino community, the future for Latinos, and for New York City overall, will not fulfill its promise.
- City of New York. 2013. The Newest New Yorkers. New York: Department of City Planning.
- Haslip-Viera, Gabriel and Sherrie L. Baver. 2017. Latinos in New York: Communities in Transition. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.
- Jones-Correa, Michael. 1998. Between Two Nations: The Political Predicament of Latinos in New York City. Cornell University Press.
- Milkman, Ruth, and Ed Ott. 2014. New Labor in New York: Precarious Workers and the Future of the Labor Movement. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
- Sánchez Korrol, Virginia E. 1983. From Colonia to Community: The History of Puerto Ricans in New York City, 1917–1948. (Contributions in Ethnic Studies, Number 9.) Westport, CT.: Greenwood Press.
- Smith, Robert Courtney. 2006. Mexican New York: Transnational Lives of New Immigrants. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Torres, Andres. 1995. Between the Melting Pot and the Mosaic: African Americans and Puerto Ricans in the New York Political Economy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
- TorresSaillant, Silvio and Ramona Hernandez. 1998. The Dominican Americans (New Americans). Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing.