170 posts

Puerto Rican Migrants Prime Local Economy

Palm trees


Moody’s Investors Services, usually busy downgrading Puerto Rico’s $70 billion-odd debt, issued a report recently stating the island’s current population loss, which is of historic proportions, is a boon for Central Florida, where Puerto Ricans already make up 12 percent of workers – even higher in some sectors like transportation. And that figure is expected to grow.

Picture 1For decades, Puerto Rican migrants were characterized as a “problem” by receiving communities: New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and even Florida. Stories in the New York Times and elsewhere referred to the city’s “Puerto Rican problem.”

But that is incorrect. Migrants should be defined by the more powerful “P” word – pipeline. Puerto Rican migration is a worker pipeline that is pumping Central Florida’s economic engine.

The financial crisis on the island is sending tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans this way each year. The crisis is likely to come to a head in December, when about $300 million in debt payments is due. Puerto Rico must decide whether to pay its debt or keep the government going. Faced with such a decision, it’s clear the real hurting for Puerto Ricans hasn’t even begun.

It isn’t the first time that Puerto Ricans perform the service of boosting a stateside economy. Beginning in the early 20th century, when the United States took over the island, the federal government, with the complicity of the island government, shuttled Puerto Ricans off the island to Hawaii (to harvest pineapples), to Pennsylvania (to harvest mushrooms) and even Florida for the sugar cane crop. The largest number of Puerto Ricans went to New York, where they propped up the manufacturing sector, particularly the garment industry, before those jobs were sent packing overseas.

The collapse of manufacturing in the Northeast in the 1970s was a blow to Puerto Rican workers, who began looking for greener pastures by returning to the island or moving to places like Central Florida.

Flash forward to September 2015 and Florida boasts a 5.2 percent unemployment rate. Orange County’s rate is an even rosier – 4.7 percent – close to full employment. That is, everybody who wants to work is working. If everybody who wants to work is working, then how are Central Florida employers going to fill job openings either for seasonal work or, beyond that, non-seasonal work in 2016?

Seen in this light, the Puerto Rican worker pipeline starts to take on greater significance and importance to Central Florida’s economy. Puerto Ricans are providing the muscle that turns the gears of local economic activity.


Central Florida Unemployment as of September 2015

Orange County … 4.7 percent

Osceola … 5.5 percent

Seminole … 4.6 percent

FLORIDA … 5.2 percent

Source: Florida Dept. of Economic Opportunity


˜˜Maria T. Padilla, Editor

Orlando Voter Turnout Declines

yo vote
About 85 percent of Orlando city voters didn’t bother to cast a ballot in this year’s election. / Archive photo


Official results are in for Orlando mayoral  and city council elections held this week and my prediction has materialized: a dismal turnout. In fact, it was down from 2012. Yes, down, as if it could get worse.

About 14,000 votes got Buddy Dyer elected to a fourth term as Orlando mayor. For an elected official with three prior terms, which suggests he is popular, Dyer generated 1,827 more votes than during his 2012 run – 13,948 votes this year vs.12,121 votes in 2012.  It’s definitive! It takes only 14,000 votes to be elected mayor of a city of 260,000-odd people.

It’s also disgraceful. And that’s not all.

District 4 Commissioner Patty Sheehan got an additional six (6) votes in 2015 over 2012 – that is, 3,915 votes vs. 3,909 votes, according to the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office. The biggest loser-winner was District 6 Commissioner Samuel Ings, who obtained 351 fewer votes than in 2012 – that’s right, fewer votes  – to cruise to a 52 percent victory.

As I wrote earlier in the Orlando Sentinel, voters are partly to blame for such dismal numbers. They just didn’t come out to vote. Turnout this year was down to 14.6 percent or 22,354 voters, compared with 15.9 percent or 20,880 voters in 2012.

But voters aren’t entirely to blame. The Orlando City Council also moved up elections from the original date of April 2016, a presidential election year in which more voters are likelier to participate.

Just say it: The 2015 election was a case of many chumps, no champs.

Día de los Muertos: A Day to Remember

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I always liked the concept of el Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, when Mexico and Central America honor family who has passed away. It’s no accident that the Catholic calendar celebrates All Saints Day the same time – November 1 – and that All Souls Day comes a day later on November 2, reflecting many cultures’ ancestral beliefs in the spirit world.

In Latin America, the deceased return to Earth on el Día de los Muertos and we humans welcome them back with gifts or ofrendas of food, drink, flowers and music, among other things. Families build beautiful altars to their loved ones to make the journey easier or more pleasant for those who have crossed the veil.

El Día de los Muertos has special significance for me this year. My oldest brother died of colon cancer just two months ago in August and it’s still a fresh wound. I think of him daily but I also worry about the day when I won’t think of him as much.

In the old days there would be a novena or nine days of prayer or rosarios. They were social gatherings, a time to bathe in the warmth of family and friends during a time of death. Back then women had the time to put on such activities and families lived closer together. Not anymore.

Here’s the thing about death, especially an unexpected one: In the end you are left with the why of it all. Why did my brother get such a rotten deal? Why did this have to happen? Why all the suffering and pain? But there are no answers or no easy answers.

I created my first altar to my brother this year. Not being Mexican or Central American, I wasn’t sure exactly how to do it; however, I knew it required:

Water to quench their thirst

Food, especially fruit and bread

Pictures and mementoes of the deceased


Flowers, especially marigolds


Papel picado, a paper decoration (which I made myself)

Building the altar drew me closer to my brother, thinking of the things he liked – he loved sweets so I placed a lollipop on the altar and I added a lava lamp as a reminder of the 60s, when he came of age. He would have thought it was cool. I chose a photo of my brother under a gorgeous weeping willow in my old home in Nevada. A rosary I bought in Japan hangs on the photo frame. The perfect finishing touch – a clock he gave me for my 25th wedding anniversary.  Time is a thief.

Here’s a cool link from the Smithsonian Latino Center on Day of the Dead: http://latino.si.edu/dayofthedead/

˜˜ Maria Padilla, Editor

Puerto Ricans Spend 15 Cents of Every Hispanic $1 in Florida


Another way to look at the influence of Puerto Ricans (other than political) is to examine their purchasing power. Just how much money courses through the community’s vein which, in turn, boosts the overall economy?

Information about Hispanic purchasing power is easy to find –  the Census Bureau reported it at $1.2 trillion a year nationwide for 2013. That is, Latinos spend more than $1 trillion in the United States every year.

Hispanic Florida’s share of that was $122 billion or about 10 percent of all Hispanic purchases in the nation.

Data about specific Latino groups in a given state are more difficult to come by. But I recently found a figure reported by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies in New York indicating that Puerto Ricans in the 50 states spend $78.6 billion annually, based on 2014 figures.

Of that amount, Floriricans make up nearly $18 billion a year ($17.7 billion to be exact). Put another way,  Puerto Ricans in Florida make nearly 25 percent of all Puerto Rican purchases in the country every single year.

Comparing Puerto Rican purchasing power in Florida to all Hispanic spending in Florida, it appears that boricuas may account for nearly 15 percent of all Hispanic spending in the Sunshine State each year.

Now we know.

˜ Maria Padilla, Editor


Puerto Rican Spending

(in billions)

United States                    $78.6

Florida                              $17.7

Puerto Rico                    $37.3

         TOTAL               $133.6