Hispanics in Maine boost state economy

Posted April 23, 2009, at 7:17 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:48 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — As the number of Hispanics in one of America’s whitest states increases so, too, does this “invisible” minority’s economic impact on the state of Maine, say authors of a report released Thursday.

The Maine Center for Economic Policy, a liberal advocacy group for low-income residents, reports that Maine’s Hispanic population grew by 67 percent between 2000 and 2007 and totaled 15,656 at last count. During the same period, the state’s total population rose by only 3.3 percent.

If trends hold, Hispanics could comprise 10 percent of Maine’s population by 2050, compared to their current 1.2 percent, the group says.

The report is the first in Maine to look at the economic contributions of the state’s Hispanics. According to its findings, Hispanic-owned businesses generated $113 million in revenue in 2002, a 117 percent increase from the 1997 figure.

Still, Hispanics are seen largely in Maine as a come-and-go group of seasonal farm and forest workers. The report, however, provides evidence that the state’s largest minority is engaged in more diverse areas. It points to Hispanics who work in medicine and health care, retail and service businesses, such as plumbing and heat-ing.

“We are the largest minority in the state and for some reason we seem to be invisible,” said Juan Perez-Febles of the state Labor Department’s migrant and immigration service.

“The beauty of this report is that [it shows] we are not all migrant workers. It gets the stigma out that all Hispanics are short and brown and do manual labor,” said Perez-Febles, a native Cuban who came to Maine in 1972.

Hispanic residents live throughout the state, giving them a lower profile than other minorities and immigrant groups who tend to live in specific urban neighborhoods, said Deborah Felder of the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

Felder said Hispanics can become an even more significant part of Maine’s labor force as the population ages and young people flee the state for jobs elsewhere. U.S. Census figures from 2005 showed Maine had the nation’s whitest population, 96 percent, and the highest median age at 40.6.

The report also says many Hispanics with college degrees are forced to take low-paying jobs in Maine because their academic credentials are not accepted in the state. The report calls for more programs to promote Hispanic entrepreneurship and recommends the state work more closely with universities and businesses to direct trained professionals toward their areas of expertise.

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