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How has the recent arrival of Latino migrants affected rural communities? A new scholarly study, especially its findings on property values, poverty and crime rates, may come as a surprise.

Dr. Martha Crowley of North Carolina State University and Dr. Daniel Lichter of Cornell University grouped rural counties according to their Latino populations 1990-2000. Using census data, they compared rural (non-metropolitan) counties that experienced large influxes of Latinos between 1990-2000 (high growth counties), rural counties where Latino populations have traditionally been large, and counties that did not experience significant growth in Latino residents (no growth counties). They then looked at the differences among these three groups on a range of characteristics.

Crowley and Lichter found that Latino in-migration had a mixture of positive and negative impacts on the well-being of rural counties.

– In 2000, counties with the highest levels of Latino in-migration had lower percentages of poverty and unemployment than either traditionally Latino counties or counties that did not experience significant Latino in-migration. However, all three groups showed declining poverty and unemployment between 1990 and 2000, and the rates of decline were somewhat stronger in those counties that did not experience high Latino in-migration.

-High Latino in-migration may dampen income opportunities for African-Americans. Blacks increased per capita income in all three types of counties, but in high Latino growth counties, the rate of increased income per capita for African Americans was not as high as in traditional and low-growth counties. It is important to note, however, that Latino per capita income actually declined in high Latino growth counties; this finding indicates that new Latino residents are, on average, taking the low-paying jobs in rural communities.

-The proportion of residents on public assistance was lowest in the high Latino growth counties. The greater pressure on public services in high growth counties was on health care provision and educational institutions.

-Increases in retail sales per capita and median home values were highest in those counties with high Latino in-migration. The high Latino growth counties also experienced higher property tax increases during this time, although property tax rates were still lower in these counties at the end of the period than in traditionally Latino counties or in no-growth counties. Thus, Crowley and Lichter suggest that many local businesses as well as homeowners benefit economically from high Latino in-migration.

three groups of Latino counties

-Arrest rates declined in all types of rural counties between 1990 and 2000. Counties with high in-migration began and ended the decade with the highest violent crime rates; however, the rate of decline in arrests was strongest in those counties. In other words, in-migration correlated with declining rates of arrest. Arrest rates were lowest in non-growth Latino counties.

Counties with high Latino growth had the highest rates of property crime arrests. Arrests for violent crimes were highest in high growth Latino counties, but declined faster during the decade than arrest rates in traditional Latino counties or in counties that experienced no growth in Latino population. There were tremendous increases in drug arrests across the board but the high Latino immigration counties showed the lowest rates of increase. Drug arrests were up 31% for the decade in the high Latino inmigration counties, but established Latino counties experienced a 49% increase, and in the non Latino growth counties drug arrests rose 63%.

Dr. Martha Crowley is a sociologist at North Carolina State University; Dr. Daniel Lichter is a scholar at Cornell University’s Bronfennbrenner Life Course Center. They presented their research at the 70th Annual Meeting of the Rural Sociological Society this August in Santa Clara, California.

Their research provides hard data on the complex impacts of Latino migration patterns in rural America. This study comes at an important time: it suggests that many “facts” that are taken for granted on the immigration issue simply do not hold up to the evidence. As we always say in this business, “more research is needed.”

Dr. Patrick H. Mooney is chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Kentucky.

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