By Robert Cyr
As Connecticut’s Latino population continues to grow, one county in particular has seen a surge in Hispanic residents. According to reports from the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Latinos in Middlesex County has seen the largest increase in the state.
According to data from the bureau, the county’s Latino population rose 9.79 percent between 2011 and 2012, and is now home to about 8,600 Latinos residents.
The relative availability of low-wage service jobs and family connections are the likely reasons for the significant population increase throughout Middlesex County, according to a Latino studies professor at the University of Connecticut. The cities and towns will need to adapt on several levels – municipally, educationally and politically – to keep up with the needs of the county’s ballooning number of Hispanic residents.
Professor Charles Santiago, who teaches political science and Latino studies at UConn, travels the country and the state researching Latino growth trends and the reasons behind population flows.
“Most Latinos are going to migrate to some sort of community where they have family or friends or make some kind of connection, and that is almost certainly the case in Middlesex County, based on past trends,” he said. “We’re talking about immigrants in a lot of cases, and they take whatever jobs are available, the kinds of jobs many white people avoid in the service industries.”
While Santiago could not pinpoint a growing industry in particular to Middlesex County, he said that cities like Middletown, which has a younger population, has been a draw for new groups of Latinos from Ecuador, Guatemala and Columbia that find work in restaurants and construction. Countering the trend, he said, is the Puerto Rican population, which has been decreasing in the state.
Latinos are not limiting themselves to minimum or low-paying jobs, though, he added.
“Latinos are filling not just low-wage jobs, but any jobs that are available,” Santiago said. “The moment they start saving some money or increasing their wages or invest, they’ll move out of those low-paying jobs. There’s a lot of entrepreneurship in Latino communities in the state.”
In Middletown, where eight percent of the 47,648 residents are Latino, Mayor Daniel Drew said the city has been aware of the increasing number of Latinos and is in talks with the police chief to add more Spanish-speaking officers to the department.
“I would love to have more Latino officers on the force,” he said. “Communication very often is more than being able to understand a language, it’s about understanding culture.”
Because Latinos are generally younger than other segments of the population, some changes will be felt in the classroom, as well, he said. He could not say that ESL teachers will be added yet, but stressed that all the school staff working now will stay working despite a tough budget season.
Aside from municipal services and jobs, two things that are often overlooked about the Latino population — their growing buying power and political clout – said Werner Oyanadel, Director of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission.
“Implications of the growth, from a policy prospective, is significant, and we need to think about the transportation that is needed in that area, housing costs, employability, and definitely issues of education,” he said.
A growing Latino population in Middlesex County will have “a positive economic aspect” to the region, which will bring “significant” buying power to economic recovery, he said.
Perhaps most significant, Oyanadel said, is the population growth could help Connecticut keep a Congressional seat.
Following close behind Middlesex County’s rocketing Latino population was New London County, which saw an eight percent increase, and Litchfield County, with 7.5 percent.
Overall, the state saw a six percent increase in its Latino population last year, increasing from 496,644 in 2011 to more than half a million last year, reaching an all-time high of 510,645.