Latinos in Greater New Haven: Emerging Influence – Growing Opportunity

As the youngest and fastest growing ethnic group in Greater New Haven and the state, Latinos are indelibly linked to the region's vitality and prosperity.

An advocate for Connecticut Students for a DreamPhoto Credit: Ian Christmann

As the youngest and fastest growing ethnic group in Greater New Haven and the state, Latinos are indelibly linked to the region's vitality and prosperity. The emerging influence of Latinos is seen in the recent appointment of Carmen E. Espinosa to the state Supreme Court, the existence of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, a Spanish online news site, LaVoz Hispana, and an English on-line news site, CT Latino And a significant number of people of Latin American and Caribbean origin populate local municipal boards, head businesses, and serve as community leaders.

Yet too many young Latinos are disconnected in school and dropping out before they gain the skills to compete for good jobs. Unless reversed, this trend will only add to the already high concentration of Latinos in low-wage jobs. And low voting rates among Latino voters have resulted in limited political focus on issues with Latinos at the center. Making life better for Latinos is not only an issue of social justice. It is in everyone's economic interest.

Because the region is growing older at an unprecedented rate, the resources needed to pay for elderly care will only be generated if enough young people move into the well paying jobs left by the retiring baby boomers. As the one group with a youth population bubble, Latinos represent a significant opportunity for meeting the need in the workforce, expanding the consumer market, and helping the economy grow.

A Diverse Community

Peel away the statistics and the "Latino population" is a heterogeneous group of people who are more likely to identify with the places where their families came from. Greater New Haven is home to a rich diversity of cultural traditions and historical perspectives from the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico and countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean including Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Ecuador and others. The issues for Latino populations that are already US citizens are also different than for those that are immigrants, especially the undocumented.

A sizeable majority (75 percent) of Latinos is born in the U.S. or Puerto Rico and 25 percent only speak English in the home1. In self-identifying as Latino, people of Latin American and Caribbean descent bridge their different backgrounds in order to strategically advance their shared interests. Research suggests that a substantial number of Latinos believe in the possibility of acculturation into the United States without abandoning bilingual and bicultural values2.

If not for Latinos, Greater New Haven's population would have likely declined in the past decade. Since 2000, the Latino population has grown by 60%, twelve times faster than the general population. About 15% of the Greater New Haven region now identifies as Latino, half of whom live outside the city of New Haven.

Change Through Community Engagement

Raising education performance and reversing high drop out rates is critical to the future of young Latinos and the community in general. Research suggests that Latino parents place a high value on education. However, work schedules, language barriers, and other obstacles have resulted in low Latino parent participation rates in their children's schools3.

Strengthening the support networks for Latino students and their parents is therefore fundamental to improved school performance. A powerful and proven strategy for accomplishing this is civic engagement. As shown in the documentary film The Graduates/Los Graduados, young Latino and Latina students who face obstacles that typically lead to dropping out of school -- gang membership, teenage pregnancy, undocumented status, poverty– find the strength to succeed in school and create promising futures for themselves when provided with opportunities to be involved in their schools and communities.

Economic Opportunities & Gaps

Like immigrant communities throughout U.S. history, Latinos bring an entrepreneurial spirit that energizes commercial districts like Grand Avenue in New Haven. The Spanish American Merchant's Association, started in 1982, now has more than 500 members statewide.

However, the unemployment rate for Latinos in 2012 was 16 percent, more than double the White unemployment rate of seven percent. On average, Latinos earned 55 cents and Blacks earned 72 cents for every dollar earned by Whites4. Moving more Latinos into higher incomes will be critical for their economic security as well as supporting our aging population.

Political Engagement

Latinos have a strong presence in the municipal politics of Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven, but make up only six percent of the state's elected officials, and there are only two Latino state senators5.

While Latinos are voting in increasing numbers, their participation rate significantly lags that of whites and African Americans. Less than 50% of eligible Latino voters participated in the 2012 election as compared to a 66% rate for blacks and 64% for whites. The low rate is in large part a result of the high number of young Latino eligible voters; about one third of the Latino voters in Connecticut are ages 18 – 296. Young eligible voters across all ethnic lines vote in fewer numbers than people in older demographics.


Relative to non Latinos, Latino adults have a lower prevalence of many chronic health conditions including heart disease, hypertension, and cancer. However, Latinos have a higher prevalence of diabetes and are more likely to be overweight, which increases the risk of other chronic conditions as the Latino population ages7.

Latinos are also twice as likely as non-Latino blacks and three times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to lack a regular health care provider, which increases their risk of allowing chronic conditions to develop without treatment8.


Despite the headline cases publicizing police harassment and wage exploitation, Connecticut Latinos in general seem to experience less discrimination than in other states9. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents to a statewide survey reported that they did not experience discrimination. Latinos in Greater New Haven reported the highest percentage of low or no levels of discrimination.

Hopeful & Working Hard for a Better Future

Like many immigrant communities, Latinos are highly optimistic about their future. In the Greater New Haven Wellbeing Survey, despite current economic challenges, 78% of Latino respondents reported that they would be doing better financially in ten years. The Progreso Latino Fund is helping make this a reality by bringing attention and philanthropic resources to the challenges facing Latinos as well as celebrating their accomplishments and rich cultural diversity for the purpose of building a better community for Latinos, and for everyone.

* Native born refers to being born in the U.S. or a U.S. Territory, such as Puerto Rico.

What the Community Foundation is Doing

The Progreso Latino Fund wants to be the fuse that sets a hundred, explosive, new ideas burning

...ideas that will ultimately benefit all America...but first they'll benefit Latinos in Greater New Haven

Grantees include:

  • Junta for Progressive Action
  • Connecticut Students for a Dream
  • Community Mediation
  • New Haven Legal Assistance
  • IIpsoculta
  • Apostle Immigrant Services
  • New Haven Sister Cities
  • IRIS
  • Literacy Volunteers
  • ARTE

Works Cited

1. Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project

2. Evidence from the Connecticut Samples of the Latino National Survey – New England, University of Connecticut, Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.

3. ibid

4. The State of Working Connecticut 2013: Young People in the Workforce, Edie Joseph, Orlando Rodriguez, M.A. Connecticut Voices for Children, August 2013.

5. Connecticut Secretary of State

6. Pew Research Center

7. Hispanics and Health Care in the United States: Access, Information and Knowledge, Livingston, Minushkin, and Cohn (website version)

8. ibid

9. Evidence from the Connecticut Samples of the Latino National Survey – New England, University of Connecticut, Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.

© The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
December 2013