Report Shows Plight of Puerto Rican Youth

By Sam Dolnick
New York Times (October 28, 2010)

Theirs was the first Latino group to settle in New York City in large numbers. Most speak English, and they are United States citizens, entitled to the benefits and security that new immigrants can only dream of.

But by many measures, young Puerto Ricans are faring far worse than the young Dominicans, Mexicans and other Latinos in New York, according to a report to be released on Monday by the Community Service Society of New York, a leading antipoverty group.

Puerto Ricans ages 16 to 24 have the lowest rates of school enrollment and employment, and the highest rates of poverty among Latino New Yorkers. Puerto Rican men are more than twice as likely as their Mexican peers to be out of school and out of the labor force. Puerto Rican women are more likely to be out of school and unemployed than Dominican or Mexican women.

The findings, culled from the Census Bureau’s annual surveys from 2006 to 2008, show that Puerto Rican youth are the most disadvantaged of all ethnic groups in New York, the report said.

“We are terribly concerned about the issues facing young Latinos, but particularly young Puerto Ricans,” said David R. Jones, the society’s president and chief executive. “It’s shaping the landscape of New York, and it’s happening really quickly.”

Since they began arriving in the city in large numbers in the 1940s, Puerto Ricans have made their mark in many realms, including business, culture and politics. Some of those political leaders – including Representative José E. Serrano, who has represented the South Bronx for two decades, and Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president – strongly disputed the study’s conclusions that Puerto Ricans are any worse off than other Latinos.

“When it comes to Puerto Ricans, there are so many studies that always try to paint the glass as half-empty,” Mr. Serrano said, though he acknowledged that the group faced unusual challenges. “Puerto Ricans are American citizens who are treated by a lot of people as if they are not American citizens.”

Others said the new report would come as no surprise to anyone who had tracked statistics over the years.

“We’re doing horribly as a community,” said Angelo Falcón, who was born in Puerto Rico and is the president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, an advocacy group based in New York. “It’s getting worse from the perspective that the problems are not being addressed. They’re festering, and it’s going into the second and third generation.

“The scary part is that people are not paying attention from outside the community.”

Latinos make up nearly one-third of the city’s population between ages 16 and 24, more than any other ethnic group. Puerto Ricans represent 26 percent of that group, while Dominicans make up 29 percent and Mexicans 13 percent.

While Latinos are often viewed as a single bloc, the report considered each group individually. Many of its findings were striking.

Roughly 17 percent of young Puerto Rican men were not in school, employed or looking for work, compared with 9 percent of Dominicans and 8 percent of Mexicans. Of those Latinos born in the United States, only 55 percent of Puerto Rican youth were enrolled in school, compared with 68 percent of Dominicans and 67 percent of Mexicans. Regardless of birthplace, about 33 percent of Puerto Rican families lived below the poverty line, compared with 29 percent of Dominicans and 27 percent of Mexicans.

Experts said there was no simple explanation for the Puerto Rican plight, but they pointed to longstanding discrimination, neglect from government agencies and, curiously, the population’s successes.

In recent decades, many Puerto Ricans who have prospered have moved to the suburbs. Those who have remained in poor neighborhoods, like East Harlem and much of the South Bronx, must deal with substandard schools, high unemployment, and serious ailments like diabetes and asthma.

Lazar Treschan, who wrote the report, “Latino Youth in New York City,” traced many problems to the troubled areas where many Puerto Ricans live. “This is the impact of concentrated poverty on a community,” he said.

Of course, other Latinos live in poor neighborhoods as well, but researchers said a key difference hinged on citizenship and immigration. More than 90 percent of young Puerto Ricans were born in the 50 states, and even those who came from Puerto Rico are not considered immigrants. Many young Dominicans and Mexicans were born in their home countries – 43 percent and 72 percent, respectively – and brought the enterprising spirit that is common among new arrivals, Mr. Falcón said.

“There’s this entrepreneurial motivation that you see among newer immigrants that Puerto Ricans at this point may not have anymore because they’ve been, ironically, Americanized,” he said.

Although Mexicans are the most recent Latino group to come here in large numbers, Mexican men have an employment rate more than three times that of Puerto Rican men, even if many of the jobs they hold are low-paying, according to the report.

Mr. Jones, the Community Service Society president, said his group planned to consult with policy experts and elected officials to discuss possible solutions. “We’re seeing the construct of what New York is going to look like,” he said. “If we don’t grapple with it, it’s going to have some really negative impacts.”

2 thoughts on “Report Shows Plight of Puerto Rican Youth

  1. The more apt comparison would be to Chicano and African American youths. Angelo Falcon is right in saying that these generations of Puerto Ricans, unlike their progenitors, have been integrated — that is, cultivated, into a condition of alterity, of an underclass — which involves how society looks at them and how they perceive themselves. That’s why I created PRdream– to resist and subvert this reality. I have to get back to developing it even more.

  2. Editorial
    A distress signal from our kids
    Latino youths have sent an SOS -the adults leading our city and communities must respond.
    El Diario-La Prensa (November 1, 2010)

    Yesterday, Puerto Rican mothers, elected officials and community leaders took to the steps of City Hall to drive this message home and announce a coalition called Pa’lante.

    The gathering was sparked by a report released by the Community Service Society (CSS) of New York. The report shows a crisis for many young Latinos, particularly for Puerto Ricans between the ages of 16 to 24.

    Among the alarming findings: More than 24 percent of Puerto Rican young men are “disconnected”-neither employed nor in school-, leaving them as the most disadvantaged group of youths. This is among Latinos and non Latinos.

    In New York, Hispanics are the largest share of the city’s youth population. Thousands of them are at risk of being without the skills the local workforce demands. This has implications for their survival and success and their ability to replace aging workers, taxpayers and consumers.

    The problems for disconnected youths are not new. The report gives a statistical face to youths suffering from poorly performing schools, uncertainty about their place in society, and the inadequate commitment of resources to bring successful programs to scale. This, in the face of budget cuts affecting everything under the sun.

    CSS researchers emphasize an important point-that a one-size-fits-all response to Latino youths is not the answer. Instead, customized strategies are in urgent order for reaching disconnected young people. To this end, CSS and the Hispanic Federation should convene a task force, driven by those on the ground with teenagers, to map out how to bridge them to education, training and jobs.

    This crisis also requires more than a policy response. We call on the women and men who have been honored by El Diario for their outstanding work to focus on the young people at the margins of our city.

    Policymakers, leaders and activists should begin with a listening tour. They should take notes on what young people who are out of school and jobless have to say. How effective strategies are for reaching them rests with how well adults genuinely connect to their reality.

    El Diario would like to hear from individuals on the ground with young people who are disconnected. What are the underlying issues for them? And what are the best practices for helping them? Email us at We will report back.

    El Diario-La Prensa
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    New York, NY 11201
    (212) 807-4600

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