Portuguese American Journal

Community: New study reveals the way we are – FLAD, PT

A study sponsored by Lisbon-based, Luso-American Foundation for Development (FLAD), has revealed new facts and statistics about the Portuguese immigrant community and their descendants in the United States.

The study, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), provides a current demographic and socioeconomic profile of the Portuguese American community by analyzing four groups: immigrants with and without U.S. citizenship, and Portuguese descendants who speak and who do not speak Portuguese.

According to the study, in the period of 2016-2020, there were 1,272,040 Portuguese immigrants and their descendants residing in the country, accounting for 0.4% of the total population.

Regarding current demographics, the Portuguese immigrant community is decreasing in numbers. One of the reasons for the decline is aging resulting from a reduction in the immigration flow, the study says.

While Portuguese Americans are spreading out to various states, approximately 30% still live in Massachusetts (258,238), Rhode Island (81,685), and Connecticut (43,079) on the East Coast. California has the most prominent Portuguese American community with 309,958 individuals, while New Jersey has the highest proportion of Portuguese immigrants, with one in every three people in the Portuguese community being an immigrant.

Florida has seen the largest absolute growth of Portuguese immigrants and their descendants, with over 15,000 Portuguese and Portuguese Americans moving there between 2006-2010 and 2016-2020. Texas follows with over 10,000 Portuguese immigrants and descendants moving to the state during the same period.

The study highlights that most U.S. residents who claim Portuguese ancestry were not born in Portugal, the majority in the Azores, and do not speak Portuguese (986,003). They are followed by Portuguese speakers who were also not born in Portugal (149,339), naturalized immigrants who were born in Portugal but have obtained American citizenship (98,810), and Portuguese immigrants born in Portugal who are not U.S. citizens (37,888).

Portuguese immigrants, whether naturalized or not, are relatively more concentrated in lower-paid occupations but have higher incomes than other individuals in the same occupations.

One in five Portuguese immigrants works in construction, and Portuguese descendants, particularly those who speak Portuguese, have a higher percentage of workers in professional, scientific, and technical services compared to other residents.

In terms of income and education, on average the study reveals that Portuguese laborer descendants, who speak Portuguese, earn wages 20% higher. Also, the average laborer’s income of Portuguese immigrants is higher than most U.S. residents. Even low-income Portuguese immigrants have relatively higher incomes than other low-income residents. Additionally, four out of 10 Portuguese descendants who speak Portuguese had a higher education degree, which is almost 10% more than most residents.

Naturalized Portuguese immigrants, Portuguese immigrants, and their non-Portuguese-speaking descendants had differences of 11.8%, 8.89%, and 7.33%, respectively.

The study also found that Portuguese immigrants work more hours on average (40.27) than naturalized immigrants (39.52), Portuguese-speaking Portuguese Americans (39.23), and Portuguese Americans who do not speak Portuguese (38.08).

Regarding housing conditions, the study indicates that Portuguese and Portuguese Americans, across all groups mentioned, predominantly live in single-family homes. In terms of health care, the study reveals that more than 88% of Portuguese immigrants and their descendants are covered by some type of health insurance.

The study concluded that the first Portuguese emigration flow to the United States dates to the period from 1800 to 1870, primarily driven by whaling activities. Most emigrants were natives of the Azores, who had limited education. Their initial settlements were established in New England, particularly in places like New Bedford or Nantucket in Massachusetts. There were also Portuguese communities that formed in  California (Sacramento, Monterey) and Hawaii.

A second flow of Portuguese emigration took place between 1870/1880 and 1920. During this period, there was a significant influx of Portuguese migrants to Hawaii, where they found employment in the sugar cane plantations. Rhode Island and Massachusetts also attracted many Portuguese immigrants due to the demand for labor in the textile industry. Additionally, California remained an attractive destination for Portuguese migrants, primarily in the agriculture and livestock sectors.

The third flow of Portuguese emigration occurred between 1920 and the mid-1950s. This period was marked by the Azorean Refugee Act, following the eruption of the Capelinhos volcano on Faial Island, leading to an increase in Portuguese emigration once again. After 1985, Portuguese emigration experienced a decline, and the flow of Portuguese immigrants to the United States decreased significantly.

The findings of the study were presented on June 20 at UMass Dartmouth at an event hosted by the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture and the Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives.

At the occasion, FLAD President Rita Faden emphasized that the study provides a starting point in understanding the current demographic and socioeconomic profile of the Portuguese and Portuguese-descendant communities in the United States. She acknowledged that the total number of the Portuguese community in the U.S. remains unknown since the study only accounts for those with Portuguese heritage. She also highlighted the importance of language within the community and how it is prevalent in the new generations.

The study was presented to the public by its coordinator, Dr. Alda Botelho Azevedo, from the Instituto de Ciências Sociais at the University of Lisbon, and co-author Dr. Lara Patrício Tavares, an assistant professor at the Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas at the University of Lisbon.

Based in Lisbon, Portugal, the Luso-American Development Foundation (FLAD) is a grant-making organization dedicated to funding initiatives to promote scientific and cultural exchanges between Portugal and the United States.

Source: Luso-American Foundation for Development (FLAD)

Consult the full study in Portuguese here.

PAJ/Staff/Updated with corrections

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