There may be more than 53,000 Latinos
in the Memphis metropolitan area, with most of them arriving in the last decade to work in construction or warehouses, according to a study by researchers at the University of Memphis.
The estimate by Drs. David Ciscel
, Marcela Mendoza
, and Barbara Ellen Smith
of the Center for Research on Women
is roughly double the most recent U.S. Census estimate and would make Latinos the fastest-growing ethnic population in the Memphis area. In 1990, the census counted 8,116 Hispanics in Memphis.
The researchers are studying the employment patterns and economic impact of Latinos in Memphis. A second report due to be completed later this year will look closely at employment practices in the warehouse and construction sectors and the daily lives of Latinos in Memphis.
Hispanics have settled in Hickory Hill, Parkway Village, Binghampton, the Jackson Avenue Corridor, and Fox Meadows. Four bus companies now provide daily or weekly transportation from Memphis to different locations in Mexico.
ÒContrary to a commonly held belief that Latinos are seasonally mobile, these groups already constitute a stable, permanent population in these areas,Ó the authors say. ÒThe majority of recent Latino immigrants arrived in Memphis in the company of family and friends.Ó
Most of the Latinos are Mexicans who come to Memphis to work in semi-skilled jobs where wages vary between $7 to $10 an hour. There are an estimated 27,429 Latino workers in the Memphis economy, the report says.
ÒThey have one unusual characteristic for low-wage workers,Ó says the report. ÒWe estimate that the typical Latino worker saves almost 30 percent of his or her income,Ó sending most of that back to family in Mexico.
In an interview, Ciscel estimated that over half of the Mexicans who live in Memphis do not have proper documentation. The upcoming report will examine the particulars of that, he said.
ÒIt appears that Latinos did not displace local workers,Ó Ciscel said, but there are indications that their willingness to work for low wages with minimal benefits is having an impact on the local economy.
Researchers came up with their population number by looking at public records of Hispanic births, home buyers, and city and county school students. Then they made projections from there.
The Hispanic influence in Memphis can be seen in the restaurants, churches, supermarkets, radio stations and other businesses that cater to Latinos in the Parkway Village and Jackson Avenue areas. Local businesses, banks, and service agencies are increasingly hiring bilingual workers to accommodate the growing Hispanic population.