Report: Latinos make big contribution to Sussex economy

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A report commissioned by the Delaware Community Foundation shows indicates that Latino immigrants in Sussex County are making a sizable contribution to the economy.

Latinos do face high poverty rates, with undocumented immigrants facing exploitation that can include unreported pay, long hours and poor working conditions.

Based on U.S. Census figures, the Latino population in Sussex totals more than 20,000 or about 9.3 percent of the county’s 229,000 residents.

The report was authored by two University of Delaware faculty members and covers a number of areas including education, services and housing.

Incomes climb

As a whole, Latinos in Sussex County are faring better than they were in 2013. The authors noted that the total aggregate income showed a 165 percent increase in the Latino community from 2013-2017, a higher rate of income growth than the county as a whole.

Labor force participation among Latinos in Sussex County averages 67.5 percent compared with 56.3 percent in the county as a whole.

A large percentage of all Latinos living in Sussex County report an income below the poverty line. However, in at least 14 census tracts, Latinos report an income above the poverty line and a significant number report income up to 200 percent above the poverty level.

An estimate of annual tax contributions indicates that Latinos in Sussex County are contributing nearly $50 million in tax revenue, with nearly $4 million contributed to Social Security and $1.2 million to local and state tax revenue.

The Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (2019) estimates that the annual economic contributions of Dream and Promise Act households (immigrants with temporary status) in Delaware amounts to $36.5 million in federal taxes, $12.2 million in state and local taxes, and nearly $160 million in spending power.

As the population in Sussex County ages, the solvency of government-supported retirement and medical programs will be directly dependent on the future productivity and payroll tax contributions of a youthful workforce that is increasingly comprised of Latinos, the report noted.

A group of study participants who work and interact with the Latino community noted the significant economic contributions that Latinos are making in Sussex County, primarily referring to first- and second-generation families.

While poultry plants are widely seen as employment centers for newer Latinos, restaurants along the coast are employment hubs.

Others noted that many first-generation Latino entrepreneurs who have been able to successfully operate businesses that cater not only to the Latino community, but also the wider communities of Sussex County.

These include brick and mortar businesses in Latino hubs such as Georgetown, and landscaping and construction businesses operating throughout the county.

It was noted that a difference exists between the opportunities available to a bilingual Latino with secure immigration status (citizenship or authorization) and insecure immigration status (unauthorized).

For newcomers who are undocumented getting paid “under the table” may be one of their only options, as industries’ hiring practices change in response to the current immigration policy environment.

As several participants pointed out, cash is preferable and “… restaurants, they pay in cash.” Former avenues for steady employment, the poultry industry in particular, are more difficult for newcomers to access.

It leaves unauthorized workers open to potential abuse in the unregulated workplace, whether through negligence or intentional harm. As one participant noted:

“They’ll start at these entry-level positions and do the hard labor, to the best of their abilities. And sometimes that results in them being abused and working many, many hours or working many hours and not having a break …”

At least one study participant suggested that some industries are not particularly interested in employees building new skills that would allow them to be promoted or move to a better job.

Study participants suggested that even Latino bilingual professionals also experience barriers in Sussex County.

Click here for the full report.

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