The Growth of the Latino Population
Starting in the 1980s the numbers and composition of the Latino community changed drastically. During this period the bulk of the Latino migration to Maryland came from Central America, primarily from El Salvador. The percentage of Latinos who identified themselves as Salvadorans in 1990 was 23 percent. The socioeconomic status of this new wave of migrants was also different. Besides professionals escaping civil wars and other political turmoil, Central Americans from lower socioeconomic strata arrived in the state, not only escaping the political instability of the region but also its economic devastation. When the effects of the debt crises throughout Latin America hit hard, working-class individuals also migrated and eventually settled in Maryland, this time attracted by the rapid explosion in the housing market and the booming construction job market in the state. By the end of the decade, the percentage of Latinos in Maryland jumped from 3 to 5 percent, and their median age was 27.4 years. By 2000 almost half of the Latinos residing in the Maryland-Washington, DC, metro area identified themselves as Central Americans.
Although Latinos in the Maryland-Washington, DC, area enjoyed a slightly higher standard of living than that of Latinos in the rest of the nation, this population confronted many of the same issues associated with the process of assimilation as many of their counterparts elsewhere in the nation. Almost half of the Latinos in Maryland are still not fluent in English, but they have a working command of the language. The majority is employed in the service sector. Despite the fact that the region’s migrants live in middle-income neighborhoods, not the poorest, there is evidence of informal residential segregation. For instance, in Montgomery County, where about a quarter of the Latinos reside, the majority (77 percent) tend to congregate along with other working-class groups in the eastern half of the county, where there are more multifamily quarters available for rent.
In Maryland’s eastern shore the Latino population is mostly composed of migrants who work in agriculture and the poultry industry. For instance, every summer hundreds of Mexicans and Guatemalans make the trip from Florida to work in the tomato harvest as migrant workers. As in other states throughout the nation, these workers are undocumented, they come without their families, and they constitute a very transient population whose stay is determined by the availability of work in the fields. Estimates set the Latino undocumented workers at about 50 to 60 percent of all the farm labor in the Delmarva region. When Mexican crews from Texas began to arrive in the early 1970s, the profile of migrant workers had a noticeable demographic shift in the agricultural labor market, as
Mexicans and other undocumented Latinos gradually replaced workers from Puerto Rico who had come in the 1960s, and African Americans who had come before that.
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