Florida ranks sixth in the nation for its ability to assimilate Hispanics into the population, and is the best for economic opportunities according to a report released by WalletHub.
Each state was measured using 14 metrics, which fit into three sub-categories of assimilation: cultural and civic, educational and economic. Each state’s rankings in the three categories determined its overall composite ranking.
Hispanic people composed 17.4 percent of the 2014 U.S. population, making the group an important focal point of research, according to U.S. Census data.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that by 2060, the Hispanic population will represent 31 percent of the U.S. population.
Berta E. Hernandez-Truyol, a University of Florida professor at the Levin College of Law, said she expected a high ranking for Florida and didn’t find it to be much of a surprise.
She noted that the core Miami area, which, among others, contains a heavy Cuban population and does a good job in providing a favorable representation for the state as a whole.
“It’s the largest city in the state, so it’s going to carry a lot of weight, and there has been a lot of integration there,” Hernandez-Truyol said.
She said that the presence of Latino people in major metropolitan areas like Tampa and Miami have been able to encourage people to saturate different areas of employment.
Hernandez-Truyol noted that the report could be flawed in the sense that different regions in each state have varying levels of assimilation.
She also specified that assimilation and absorption are two completely different things.
“Assimilation, to me, is actually a two-way street,” she noted.
Hernandez-Truyol explained that people who come to the U.S. should still be able to pursue their own cultural practices while learning how to interact with the majority of people. This doesn’t mean they have to give up their cultures entirely.
In the report, the five states that placed higher than Florida for overall ranking, in order, were Vermont, West Virginia, Alaska, Louisiana and Kentucky.
She said those states are very interesting because they aren’t usual suspects with large Hispanic populations.
“Usually migrations occur to places where there is already an existing community,” she explained.
Despite the lack of a strong Hispanic community, she said that people can be drawn to places for other reasons like a strong economy, welcoming people who share cultural interests or job availability.
Such is the case in Florida, which ranked No. 1 in the country in the sub-category of economic assimilation. This includes metrics like Hispanic-owned businesses and the labor force participation rate, according to the report.
Maxine Margolis, professor emerita with the UF Department of Anthropology, said that Florida’s established Hispanic communities have allowed the state to acquire such a high ranking.
She said that assimilation has historical roots dating back dozens of years in Florida, and as one generation makes its mark, it’s easier for future generations to have successes too.
Margolis explained that a lot of immigrants find themselves working in the service industry, since manufacturing has been leaving the U.S. for countries with lower production costs.
Janis Rezek, a sociology professor at the West Virginia University Institute of Technology, originally gave expert commentary that was posted with the report. She said she was surprised that a place like West Virginia topped a diverse state like Florida.
She said it’s important to be accepting of people from all walks of life.
Instead of looking at assimilation as absorption, Rezek said she likes to look at it like a collage or a quilt where a bunch of different pieces are able to make a contribution.
“I like to emphasize difference doesn’t mean good or bad,” she said.
Rezek said that accepting all groups of people is key to preventing a divisive U.S. society.