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CT’s Puerto Ricans continue to face disparities, research reveals

Guests gather for the Festival del Coqui following the Greater Hartford Puerto Rican Day Parade Sunday Oct. 8, 2023. Thousands marched and gathered along the parade route that finished in Bushnell Park, in the shadow of the Connecticut State Capitol.
Joe Buglewicz
Connecticut Public
File: 2023:In 2022, Puerto Ricans made up 8% of the state population while other Hispanics or Latinos made up 10%. Together both groups are the second-largest ethnic group in the state of Connecticut after whites.

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New research from the Puerto Rican Studies Initiative at UConn shows changing dynamics within Connecticut's Hispanic community and other socioeconomic disparities.

Despite some improvement since 2000, Puerto Ricans in Connecticut still have the highest poverty rates in the state, particularly among women, according to the research conducted by Luis Palomino, a UConn graduate student, and Charles Venator Santiago, associate professor of political science and director of the Puerto Rican Studies Initiative at UConn.

“I see a lot of women in what I think is a position of power,” Venator Santiago said. But, “when I look at the data, the numbers are really low. Salaries are low. Poverty is higher. A lot more single women who are heads of the household. Unless I look at the data, I wouldn't think that there are inequalities.”

Between 2000 and 2022, Connecticut’s white population declined by 13%, while the Puerto Rican population grew by 46%. The Hispanic or Latino population, excluding Puerto Ricans, increased by 171%.

In 2022, Puerto Ricans made up 8% of the state population while other Hispanics or Latinos made up 10%. Together both groups are the second-largest ethnic group in the state of Connecticut after whites.

According to the study, the majority of Puerto Ricans and Hispanic or Latinos are young and entering the labor force at a higher rate than other groups in the state.

In fact, between 2000 and 2022, the highest employment rates corresponded to Hispanics or Latinos, excluding Puerto Ricans, followed by Asians, and whites. But Puerto Ricans experienced the lowest employment rates.

Puerto Ricans as a group experienced the most significant decline in poverty among all populations in Connecticut between 2000 and 2022. Despite that progress, Puerto Ricans still had the highest rates of poverty among all groups.

Household income for people who identified as Puerto Rican in Connecticut was roughly half that of whites and Asians. The study shows they are concentrated in lower-paying service and office jobs, while Hispanics or Latinos, despite higher employment rates, also occupy many service positions.

“So we're estimating that a lot more Puerto Ricans and Latinos are settling in Connecticut because the cost of living is a little cheaper than other states. Well, I mean a couple of hundred dollars,” Venator explains. “But when you're living paycheck to paycheck, you know, $200 or $300 might make a difference.”

Palomino says that homeownership, a major avenue for wealth accumulation, is less accessible to Puerto Ricans, compared to other Hispanics or Latinos who earn slightly more income. But both groups face higher mortgage and rent burdens due to rising housing costs.

"The value of properties is very high,” Palomino said. “Inflation is rising, and wages are low. As a result, when several family members live together, all the income goes towards utilities. This leaves them without enough money to buy a house.”

Puerto Ricans had the lowest college completion rates of all populations in Connecticut and this gap contributes to challenges in securing higher-paying jobs.

Despite the growing Hispanic or Latino population overall, Venator pointed out a significant gap in political participation. "Puerto Ricans and Latinos account for almost 20% of Connecticut's population, but their voting-age population is only around 13%," Venator said.

Both authors said there’s disillusionment among younger Latinos and Americans with the political process.

“There are several hypotheses. Both groups live with low incomes and are focused on trying to survive day-to-day, so participating in politics is not a priority,” Palomino says. “Another hypothesis is the low levels of education, as they may not be aware of the disadvantages or advantages they could have.”

“Nothing has changed since 2000. Poverty has decreased for Puerto Ricans and Latinos, but they're still at the bottom of the poverty scale,” Venator Santiago said. “Whether there was a blip in change after Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, the pandemic, yes, there are some blips, but overall, not much has changed historically.”

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.