Miami's Hispanic demographics changing, survey suggests, but experts warn it may not reflect true trends
By Risa Polansky
Miami-Dade's Hispanic population grew from 2007 to 2008, the latest US Census Bureau American Community Survey shows — though several segments of the local Hispanic community shrank during the period.
There could be myriad explanations, experts say, including the struggling local economy or a lure back to home or Spanish-speaking countries.
However, the changes could also be a result of small sample size and tweaks in the survey, one demographer cautions, meaning the changes may not truly reflect trends.
The study, released late last month, counted 1.496 million Hispanics in Miami-Dade in 2008, up from 1.479 million in 2007. Most, 981,908, are foreign born, up from 981,585 in 2007.
Several Hispanic population groups here declined from 2007 to 2008, data suggest, most notably Bolivians, whose numbers here fell by more than half: from 4,847 in 2007 to 2,334 last year.
The numbers reflect those who identified themselves as part of the population group, not just respondents native to the countries — for instance, a native Miamian born to Bolivian parents.
The Puerto Rican population in Miami also dropped, from 94,264 in 2007 to 88,367 last year, the survey shows.
The 48,635 Dominicans counted in 2007 dropped to 46,047.
The Uruguayan segment shrank from 6,824 in 2007 to 4,865. Costa Ricans saw a less severe drop, from 7,045 to 6,168.
Even the Cuban population here shrank slightly, from 794,883 to 791,913, the survey shows.
The survey, however, has "high sampling variability," said John P. McHenry, Miami-based demographic consultant and president of Demographic Data for Decision Making, Inc.
"In most Miami-Dade tabulations, the ACS [survey] sample sizes are too small and the changes in "Hispanic Origin' and/or "Place of Birth of the Foreign Born' are too small to be statistically significant," he said via e-mail.
When the American Community Survey was created, it was meant to be larger.
"Budgetary concerns and political considerations led to the reduced sample sizes," Dr. McHenry said. "The result is that many of the conclusions we might wish to draw on year-to-year changes in specific variables are not even close to being statistically significant, even for a county as large as Miami-Dade."
For instance, the small drop recorded in the Cuban population "may just be sampling fluctuation," he said in an interview. "The only other thing that comes to mind is they're going to Broward or Palm Beach," where they may have family.
But, Dr. McHenry said, "I wouldn't take much credence" in the small difference reported in the Cuban population. "We need to wait another year or two to see if more data confirms this finding."
Despite reported drops in several segments of the local Hispanic community, most Hispanic populations in Miami-Dade grew, the survey shows.
Hondurans, already 49,137 strong in 2007, grew to 56,840 last year.
Venezuelans jumped from 37,865 to 46,595.
The Salvadorian population almost doubled, from 12,615 in 2007 to 21,445 last year.
Again, the reported changes may not be true trends because of sampling variability, Dr. McHenry stressed.
"The sampling fluctuations are really a problem."
He noted also in an e-mail that "In 2007, the ["Hispanic origin'] question was confusing to a number of Hispanics who responded "Other' to this question instead of giving their country of origin. In 2008, a better worded questionnaire led to many more Hispanics reporting their true country of origin. So an increase in the "Mexican' origin category, for example, could in large part be due simply to changes in questionnaire wording."
But, he said, some of the changes reported are "in line with our expectations," such as an increase in Venezuelans here.
"Whenever there is instability, politically or economically, in an ascending country… then we're going to see an up tick in migration to the United States," Dr. McHenry said.
And the opposite could be true, said Dario Gonzalez, research associate at Florida International University's Metropolitan Center.
The "push/pull" theory of migration says an economic boom in a country, state, county or city will attract migrants.
If an area's economy busts, people might "leave that area and go to a more attractive area," he said.
Or they won't come here in the first place, Dr. McHenry said.
"Migrants tend not to move back or move into countries where there are economic problems."
He added via e-mail that despite his caveats about the survey's reliability, "there is anecdotal evidence (as well as some ACS data) that suggests that many immigrants are returning to their home countries," or migrating to places like Spain, for example.
"There are many reasons given for the return migration," he said, including "depression/recession in the US; improved economic conditions in the country of origin; a growing anti-immigrant movement with the US; stricter border enforcement and immigrant deportation activities within the US; other country alternatives to US migration; etc."
The survey also tracks other trends in the local population.
Across Miami-Dade, 71% of those age five and older speak a language other than English at home, the 2008 report says.
Of those, 89% speak Spanish and 11% speak "some other language," the study shows.
It adds also that "49% reported that they did not speak English "very well.'"
Of the local Hispanic population age five and up, 49.1% say they "speak English less than "very well,'" the 2008 data show, down from 51.3% in 2007.
In 2007, 4.3% of Hispanics reported speaking English only. That total rose slightly to 4.7% last year. About 95.7% in 2007 spoke a language "other than English." That fell to 95.3% in 2008.
When it comes to the workforce, of the 719,499 Hispanics over age 16 employed in the civilian sector last year, 26.3% were in management, professional and related fields, the survey shows.
About 18.5% held service jobs. Just over 12% worked in construction, maintenance and repair, and 11.7% in production, transportation and material moving occupations.
Sales and office jobs took the top spot at 30.8%. Ranking last were farming, fishing and forestry occupations, with only .3%.
As far as education of the Hispanic population 25 and older, 73.7% reported being a "high school graduate or higher" in 2008, down slightly from 73.8% in 2007. Nearly 17% held bachelor's degrees and 8% graduate or professional degrees in 2008, up from 2007's 16.2% and 7.4% respectively.
As reported in 2007, 62% of the Miami-Dade population is Hispanic, 2008 data show.
White non-Hispanics make up 18% of the local population.
For those who identified themselves as one race alone, 19% were black or African American.
The report notes that "People of Hispanic origin may be of any race."