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President’s Letter: Latinos in Central Florida: The Growing Hispanic Presence in the Sunshine State

One of the most important changes that has taken place in Florida has been the growing diversification of the state’s Latino communities. From Miami-Dade County to Osceola and Orange Counties, Colombians, Venezuelans, Dominicans and, most significantly, Puerto Ricans are fundamentally reshaping what it means to be a Latino in Florida.

A little more than a week ago in Orlando, I was happy to present, Latinos in Central Florida: The Growing Hispanic Presence in the Sunshine State, a report that highlights some of the significant changes taking place in Latino Florida, with a special focus on central counties of the state. After decades of taking a backseat to the communities in Miami and Tampa, Central Florida has emerged as ground zero in the transformation of Florida’s Latino communities and electorate.

Here’s some of what we found:

  • There are almost 5 million Latinos living in Florida. That’s about 1 out of every ten Latinos in the United States.
  • There are more than one million Puerto Ricans in Florida and three-quarters of them live in just 10 of Florida’s 67 counties.
  • Between 2000 and 2014 Florida’s Puerto Rican population grew by 94 percent.
  • By 2020, Puerto Ricans are expected to surpass Cubans as the state’s largest Latino group.
  • More Puerto Ricans, about 170,000, live in Orange County than in any other county in the state.
  • Latinos in Florida tend to be younger than other Floridians. While just 26 percent of Floridians are between the ages of 18 and 30, 47 percent of Latinos in Orlando are between 18 and 30 year of age.

Demographic increases, geographic concentration, youth; these are the characteristics that define Florida’s new Latino communities. And they were some of the reasons that drew Hispanic Federation to Florida in the first place. When we opened our office in Florida last year, we knew that many of the same issues facing Latinos in the Northeast were also bedeviling Latinos in the Sunshine State. From employment to wages, Latinos in Florida face significant barriers to economic security.

Just as problematically, we suspected that there were issues that might undercut Latino political power in the state come November. Unfortunately, we were correct.

For one thing, we found that Latinos in Central Florida tended to register to vote at rates significantly lower than their non-Latino peers. While 80 percent of all Floridians are registered to vote, among Latinos in Orlando the rate is just 66 percent. And it’s not just the lower voter registration rates that are troubling. When asked whether they vote in local elections, 60 percent of Latinos in Orlando said they never vote in local contests; and only 20 percent said they always do. And while nearly 7 out of every ten Floridians say they always vote in presidential elections, less than half of Latinos in Orlando say the same. In fact, 40 percent of Latinos in Orlando and 41 percent of Latino in Tampa said they never vote in presidential elections.

The disproportionately low political participation among Latinos in Central Florida poses real problems. Without a strong voice in government, Latinos in the state will continue to deal with lower educational attainment rates, low-wage jobs, and fewer opportunities for economic success.

Luckily, the plans that Hispanic Federation has launched launched in Florida around civic engagement will bear fruit. We know that Latinos in Florida are deeply concerned about the outcome of November’s election. I heard first hand during my visit to Orlando how concerned Latinos were with job security, immigration reform, and economic relief for Puerto Rico. They know what’s at stake in November and we know what it will take to get them registered and to the polls.

Our goal is very simple: get more Latino Floridians registered and to the polls on November 8th than in any presidential election in history. We have already registered thousands of Latinos in the state and will be working to register thousands more before the October 11th registration deadline.

None of this work is easy but we can’t afford to sit on the sidelines. Not now.