Hispanics becoming economic force in S.C.: Study provides snapshot of state’s fastest-growing population

Found in The Associated Press
Posted on 2005-08-27

Hispanics becoming economic force in S.C.

Study provides snapshot of state’s fastest-growing population


The Associated Press

A University of South Carolina study shows Hispanic immigrants could add more than $2 billion to the state’s economy.

It’s just a sliver of the dollars spent in the state every year, but researchers and Hispanic advocates say it’s significant enough for businesses and government to take notice.

“For many South Carolinians, the Latino population has been invisible,” said Elaine Lacy, director of the Consortium for Latino Immigration Studies at USC. “This is a population that is earning decent incomes.”

The study’s preliminary results give a snapshot of the state’s fastest-growing population — many employed by construction, trade, restaurant, landscaping and housekeeping companies. The study is ongoing.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize the impact of the Hispanic people in the city and the state,” Columbia beauty shop owner Gloria Wood said. The 35-year-old entrepreneur opened her shop, Sala de Belleza Sarita, eight months ago.

A Spanish talk show fills the air with background chatter and a Latino newspaper sits on a chair in the reception area of Woods’ shop. “It’s the right place for me,” said Wood, who left her home in Colombia six years ago. She sought a better opportunity for her skills “because my country is in really bad shape.”

Now, she has found her niche in a section of town where bright colorful signs advertise the music shops, clothing stores, groceries and money exchange businesses all in Spanish.

USC economist Doug Woodward wants to know about how Wood and other Hispanics are moving into the mainstream economy in South Carolina.

Woodward and several graduate students surveyed 240 Mexican immigrants as they sought documentation from the Mexican mobile consulate in Lexington and Hilton Head Island earlier this year.

They found Hispanic spending power as grown steadily since 1990 to more than $2 billion. More than 80 percent was spent locally. Most of it went to groceries, gas, household textiles, clothing and footwear.

The study also showed immigrants on Hilton Head Island earned an average $1,995 a month, about $600 higher than those in Lexington, Woodward said.

Both groups of immigrants reported sending nearly a fifth of their monthly earnings back to Mexico to a mother or relative. Mexicans in Lexington also said they were more likely to return to their home country than those at Hilton Head Island.

“What we’re finding is you can’t make blanket conclusions about the Latino population or even the migrant population from Mexico, which is what we’re focusing on here,” Woodward said.

The research group will continue to interview immigrants in Greenville.

“We know the officials statistics aren’t picking up (everyone), so the only way we really get at and understand this population is by going and doing this kind of survey,” Woodward said.

Woodward will use this study as a benchmark and expand his research across the state.

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