Buffalo, Rochester and New York don’t fair well
By Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox
Since 1980, the percentage of Americans who claim Hispanic heritage has grown from 6% to 17%. By 2040, Latinos will constitute roughly 24% of the population.
Many Democrats no doubt see President Obama’s executive actions on immigration as a step not only to address legitimate human needs, but their own political future. But perhaps a more important question is how these new Americans will fare economically.
We decided to look into which of America’s 52 largest metropolitan areas present Hispanics with the best opportunities. We weighed these metropolitan statistical areas by three factors — homeownership, entrepreneurship, as measured by the self-employment rate, and median household income — that we believe are indicators of middle-class success. Data for those is from 2013. In addition, we factored in the change in the Hispanic population from 2000 to 2013 in these metro areas, to judge how the community is “voting with its feet.” Each factor was given equal weight. Our findings parallel our recent study of the economic fortunes of African-Americans, but with some important differences.
Surviving Hard Times
The recession was particularly tough on Hispanics, who suffered a 44% drop in household wealth from 2007 to 2010, compared to a 31% decline for African-Americans and 11% for whites. Lower home values are to blame for much of this – many young Hispanic families bought homes just before the recession hit, explains the Urban Institute, but because they generally had higher debt-to-asset ratios than other ethnic groups, the steep drop in housing prices resulted in a sharper decline in their wealth. Hispanics’ home equity dropped 49% over those years.
The recession and the weak recovery have contributed to a change in the demographics of the U.S. Hispanic population – immigration has slowed while the U.S.-born Latino workforce has continued to expand at a brisk clip. In 2013, for the first time in almost two decades, the U.S.-born accounted for the majority of Hispanic workers in the country (50.3%), up from 43.9% in 2007, according to the Pew Foundation.
During the recovery, U.S.-born Hispanics have made strong job gains, adding 2.3 million to the ranks of the employed from the fourth quarter of 2009 through the fourth quarter of 2013, compared with a loss of 37,000 jobs in the recession. But that has only slightly outpaced growth in the Hispanic working-age population.
Hispanic unemployment has come down to 6.5%, but wages have been stagnant – Pew reports a slight gain in earnings of full-time Hispanic workers through the end of 2013, but that came as a result of the retreat of lower-paid illegal immigrants from the workforce.
The Unexpected Place Where Latinos Have Done Best
The prime U.S. cities for Latinos have long been New York, Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles. The Los Angeles metropolitan area alone has more than 5 million Latinos, including an estimated 1 million undocumented immigrants. Yet it no longer is necessarily the best place for them, ranking only a middling 32nd in our survey.
L.A.’s once thriving industrial economy has been in a secular decline, and in the process thousands have lost employment. At the same time, construction work has been slow, another traditional source of employment. High housing costs have also put homeownership out of reach. A 2013 Fannie Mae study found that Latinos place greater emphasis on homeownership than the rest of the population.
Given the diminished possibilities of buying a home or finding a decent job in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, Latinos have been flocking to the suburban periphery that encompasses much of adjacent Riverside and San Bernardino counties, also known as the Inland Empire, which ranks second in our survey. From 2000 through 2013, the Latino population in the area soared 74%, compared to a 15% population gain for Los Angeles.
Not surprisingly, given its substantially lower home costs, roughly half those of Los Angeles, the Inland region has a relatively high Latino homeownership rate of 55.3%, compared to 37.7% in Los Angeles. Rates of self-employment are also higher than in L.A. (23.5% to 21.3%) and so too are median household incomes ($47,200 vs. $45,200). The metro area was devastated in the housing bust, but it’s coming back faster than the coastal economy. Although total employment is some 30,000 jobs below its 2007 level, California Lutheran University economist Dan Hamilton notes that Riverside-San Bernardino’s 2.2% job growth over the past year compares well with the 2.0% increase in Orange County and 1.3% in L.A.
Latinos also fared middling in California’s other high-cost metro areas. San Jose ranks 22nd and San Francisco-Oakland ranks 25th.
The same factors that make Riverside-San Bernardino a good place for Hispanics — lower housing costs and decent job growth — characterize most of the metropolitan areas that lead our list. That is particularly true of our No. 1 metro area, Jacksonville, Fla., which is just 40 miles north of St. Augustine, founded by the Spanish in 1565, making it the longest continuously settled city in what is now the United States.
The metro area’s Hispanic homeownership rate of 55% is notably higher than the 43% average in the 52 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. The median household income of $50,170 is also well above the major metro average of $41,740. Like many Florida cities, Jacksonville was hard-hit by the recession, but over the past year, the region has added close to 22,000 jobs. Jacksonville’s Hispanic population has grown 148% since 2000.
Other Florida metro areas where Hispanics are prospering are Tampa-St. Petersburg (12th), Orlando (13th), and Miami (16th).
Not surprisingly, Latinos are also doing very well in a number of Texas cities. Like Florida, the state has relatively low housing prices, as well as a generally more buoyant economy, with strong growth in blue-collar fields such as construction, manufacturing and energy. The Lone Star State’s four big metro areas all place in the top 10, with Houston ranking fourth, followed by Dallas-Fort Worth (seventh), San Antonio (eighth) and Austin (ninth). They all are above average in terms of homeownership rates, self-employment and median household income.
Like African-Americans, Latinos have done relatively well in No. 3 Baltimore, where their numbers have increased since 2000 by 175%, with a median household income of $59,940, second highest in the nation behind the adjacent Washington, D.C., area (No. 5), where the median household income for Hispanics is $65,736.
In recent years, immigration overall has shifted to the Southeast away from many of the traditional “gateway” cities. Today the largest growth in foreign-born Americans is in the Southeast and Texas; since 2010 the old Confederacy attracted over 1.5 million foreign-born residents, more than the Northeast and Midwest together.
None of the traditional gateway cities rank in the top 10 on our list. After Miami, the highest ranking of them is Chicago, at 18th, thanks to relatively lower home prices and a high Latino homeownership rate (51.4%).
In contrast, New York, home to the country’s second largest Latino community after Los Angeles, ranks a poor 42nd. This reflects one of the lowest rates of Hispanic homeownership in the country, 26.5%, and modest population growth of roughly 29% since 2000, compared to an average of 96% for the 52 largest U.S. metro areas. New York Latino households earn a median of $42,980. That’s slightly above the 52 major metro median of $41,740, but given the sky-high housing costs in the Gotham area, it doesn’t go very far. In the Bronx, where the population is 55% Hispanic, roughly 30% of households are below the poverty line, the highest rate of any large urban county.
As was the case with African-Americans, the metro areas at the bottom of our list are all faded industrial centers. Milwaukee ranks last, preceded by Providence, R.I. ; Hartford, Conn.; and Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y.
Forging The American Future
Identifying where Latinos are going, and doing well, is critical not just for them but the future of the country. One out of every four American children are Latino and since 2000 they have accounted for two-thirds of all net job gains made in the country. Latinos are also playing a key role in the recovery from the housing bust, accounting for 56% of all new owner households created between 2010 and 2013.
What our research and migration trends suggest is that the geography of Latino opportunity is rapidly changing. The Latinization of America is gathering strength in parts of the South that offer a better deal for new Americans and their offspring than New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. You want a little salsa on those grits?