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Changing Trends in Hispanic Communities

By Michael Lopez, Ph.D., Michelle Blocklin, Ph.D., Joseph Grzywacz, Ph.D., & Cleofas Rodriguez, Jr.

The Hispanic population in the U.S. is not only increasing in size, but it’s also becoming more geographically diverse. Many Hispanics now live in “emerging” communities—communities where few, if any, Hispanics lived only two decades ago. Though the majority of Hispanics still live in “traditional or established” communities (areas that have a long history of Hispanic residents), these communities are also changing. Our webinar, “Emerging and Established Hispanic Communities: Implications of Changing Hispanic Demographics,” explored the concept of a “New Face of America” through this lens of changes in Hispanic communities.

Shifts in Migration and Settlement Patterns

According to the Pew Research Center, 30 years ago, the largest Hispanic communities were predominantly located in southern border states in the U.S., specifically California, Texas, and Florida. While this still remains the case, today Latinos are also living in different communities across the country due to both Hispanic internal migrants and recent Hispanic immigrants settling in emerging communities. For example, Hispanic populations in Southeastern states, such as Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, have experienced between 108% and 167% growth in size from 2000 to 2013.

Though there are many factors driving these shifts in Hispanic migration and settlement patterns, in this blog we maintain our focus on the farmworker community, a particularly vulnerable subgroup of the broader Hispanic population, by exploring how their migratory patterns have shifted.

Farmworkers: “Shuttling” and “Settling Out”

In the wake of 9/11 and the subsequent debate surrounding comprehensive immigration reform, how Hispanic farmworkers and their family members enter and exit “migrant streams” (patterns of movement in which they come into the country or move from state to state for work) has shifted over time due to increased enforcement of immigration policies. For example, early childhood practitioners in Northwestern States report an increase in “shuttle” farmworkers—those who travel more than 75 miles to their job placements and return home each night.[1]

An increasing number of migrant farmworkers are also “settling out” in rural areas—performing farm work during the agricultural season but pursuing other forms of employment (e.g., construction, service, lawn maintenance) outside the agricultural season. Shifts in employment across the year are often linked with negative economic outcomes, such as periods of unemployment and household food insecurity that can affect the entire family. Farmworkers who “shuttle” and “settle out” contribute to the growing number of emerging Hispanic communities throughout the country.

Ripple Effects for the Broader Hispanic Community

Changes in the migration patterns of Hispanic farmworkers and their “shuttling” and “settling out” employment influence the broader Hispanic population in emerging communities. For example, limited housing stock available to low-income Hispanic families in emerging communities becomes even more constrained with an influx of newcomers, which may lead to increased residential crowding with associated implications for public health problems (e.g., increased stress, domestic violence, and flu transmission), as well as potential interactions with law enforcement due to factors such as residential code violations, domestic violence, and others.

Hispanic settlement in rural, emerging communities places strains on financially strapped schools, as well as on health and social service systems. Additionally, staff may not be adequately equipped to respond to the needs of low-income Hispanic children and families who are culturally and linguistically diverse. Relative to more established communities, emerging communities may have fewer available child care options for low-income Hispanic parents who are frequently employed in jobs with irregular and/or nonstandard work hours. To help address these child care challenges in rural, emerging communities there are Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs that provide comprehensive services to young children of farmworkers while their parents are working in those communities.

Implications for Service Providers

Leaders in established and emerging communities can take several concrete steps to help develop more culturally and linguistically appropriate responses to the needs of a growing and changing Hispanic population. For example, community service providers need to be more aware of the considerable diversity that exists within the Hispanic population, including variations in country of origin, recency of immigration, and primary language, among other important factors. It is important that providers understand what cultural norms and languages families bring with them to their new communities and how these can be viewed as community assets rather than deficits. It also is critical to determine which data can be collected to better understand the considerable diversity that exists within the Hispanic population and how to best use these data to be responsive to population changes within a community.

Once communities establish a comprehensive understanding of the background and characteristics of newly arriving families, they can start to build welcoming services and programs that meet the unique needs of new families. Data are key to this challenge and can be useful to service providers, as it can strategically inform their systems of service delivery.


Michael Lopez, Ph.D. is Co-Principal Investigator of the Center and Michelle Blocklin, Ph.D., is its Project Director. Joseph Grzywacz, Ph.D. is Chair of the Department of Family & Child Science at Florida State University, and Cleofas Rodriguez, Jr. is the Executive Director of the National Migrant Seasonal Head Start Association.


[1] Cleofas Rodriguez, Personal Communications

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