To appear in Population and
Policy, Review, Summer 1986
Three Years Later:
The Adaptation Process of 1980
(Mariel) Cuban and Haitian Refugees
in South Florida'
Department of Sociology
The Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland 21218
Department of Sociology
Florida International University
Miami. Florida 33199
Department of Sociology
The Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland 21218
In recent years. southern Florida has experienced rapid new inflows of immigrants
from Central America and the Caribbean. Since the arrival in 1980 of Mariel (Cuban) and Haitian immigrants to this area, a great deal of speculation has emerged as to the adaptation of these two groups to south Florida and the impact which their presence has wielded on the social and economic arenas in that region. In this paper, we present selected background characteristics of representative samples of both groups and discuss our empirical findings on the labor market experiences, social networks, and educational experiences of the immigrants included in our sample. While the two groups minimally differ from earlier cohorts of their compatriots entering south Florida, their experiences since arrivig to Florida have been quite different. Both the Cuban and Haitian immigrants arrivig in 1980 demonstrate higher levels of unemployment than their counterparts who arrived earlier; however, the existence of the Cuban economic enclave in Miami did facilitate the entry of a greater number of Cubans than Haitians into the formal labor market. Initial evidence indicates that significant numbers of individuals from both groups participate in the informal labor market, often receiving less than the minimum wage.
The exodus of 1980 from Mariel. Cuba and the simultaneous arrival of large numbers of Haitian boat people represented one of the most significant episodes in modern American immigration history. The image of thousands of ragged refugees arriving in overloaded boats from Mariel, and of desperately poor Haitians coming aboard barely seaworthy crafts, had a profound impact on the American public mind (Clark et.al,. 1981; Bach et.al., 1981). The two new inflows settled for the most part in South Florida where numerous voices were raised against their presence and its consequences for the local population. A study conducted jointly by Johns Hopkins University and two Miami-area universities sought to clarify the socio-economic origins of these new refugees and the principal features of their adaptation process after three years in the United States.
Statistically-representative samples of Mariel refugees arid Haitian boat
people were interviewed in Dade County and two contiguous counties during late 1983 and early 1984. Most respondents had lived in the United States for approximately three years at the tinve of the survey. In this report we present selected characteristics of both samples and compare them with those of earlier Cuban and Haitian arrivals. The ,study was supported by a grant of the National Science Foundation to Johns Hn.pkins University. In Mitai, the project was based at the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies of Florida International University. Miami-Dada Community College also provided personnel and logistical
Methodology and Cornparative Findings
Table I presents the distribution of both samples by locality and sex' of
respondents. The project drew statistically-representative samples from the areas of principal Cuban and Haitian concentrations in South Florida. The Cuban survey encompassed the cities of Miami, Miami Beach, Hialeah, and unincorporated Dade County. The Haitian survey comprised the "Little Haiti"' sections of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale and the town of Belle Glade. Within each. locality, areas of high refugee concentration were delimited and blocks within them were selected at random. Within selected blocks, all households containing at least one Mariel refugee or recent Haitian arrival were included in the sample. A total of 514 Cubans and 499 Haitians were interviewed. Results of the study are representative of the two refugee populations in South Florida: they also shed light on both their social origins and their early adaptation process.
Table 1 about here
As a point of reference, the tables below include comparable data from
the 1980 Census as well as from an earlier study of Cuban refugees arriving in 1973 and re-interviewed in 1976, that was conducted by Portes and his associates.I]
the Cuban population, the Mariel group is much younger. The median age of our
Haitian respondents, 29 years, closely matches that reported by the Census for
Haitians nation-wide. Close to half of both samples were single at arrival and, as
with age, there was no significant difference between males and females. By
contrast, only 17 percent of 1973 Cuban refugees were single. The significance of these findings is that married immigrants tend to have more extensive social networks in places of arrival and encounter less difficulty in finding employment
(Portes and Stepick, 1984).
Table II about here
Despite the widely publicized image of these immigrants as human "rift-raft" rejected by their own societies, results of the study indicate that they
do not differ significantly from earlier refugees in important respects and that
they have positive characteristics in comparison with the respective national
populations. Mariel Cubans come overwhelmingly from urban origins, primarily the
city of Havana; they even display a slight advantage with respect to past urban
experience relative to earlier Cuban refugees. Immigrants whose origins are in
large cities, as opposed to small towns or rural areas, tend to have greater
information about the receiving society and a greater propensity to accept its
values and life-styles, as demonstrated by their generally higher rates of
naturalization after several years (Portes and Curtis, 1985). Haitians come more
A similar pattern is found for education. The average education of Mariel refugees in our sample is 9.1 years and the proportion having completed high school is 25 percent; both figures compare favorably with those for Cubans arriving during the early seventies. Haitian refugees come from more modest educational backgrounds. "Their proportion of high school graduates is much lower than among the pre-1980 Haitian population of the United States. Even then, however, the 5 average years f education in our sample represent a considerable gain over the Haitian population as a whole, 75 percent of which is illiterate (Lundahi. 1979: Miller, 19841.
In addition, both groups of refugees have acquired considerable education in the United States, particularly in English. Between 1980 and 1983, Mariel Cubans attended an average of five months of formal courses, a figure higher than among 1973 arrivals after a similar period (three years of U.S. residence). Haitian refugees received even more formal education, doubling the 1973 Cuban average.
Results reported in table HI concerning knowledge of English are based on an objective test and not on subjective self-reports. Mariel Cubans performed more poorly on this test than either 1973 Cuban refugees or Haitians. Fifty-seven percent of our 1980 Cuban respondents spoke no English after three years in the United States, a figure 13 points higher than among the other two groups. On the other hand, however, roughly one in five 1980 Cuban and Haitian refugees spoke English at least passably after three years of residence, a figure
individuals with professional and skilled backgrounds reaches 31 percent, a figure which again indicates much positive selection relative to the source Haitian population (Perushek, 1984; Miller, 1984).
In summary, the point of these findings is that the "human capital" brought aboard the Mariel and Haitian flotillas was neither insignificant nor inferior to that among earlier refugee cohorts. In terms of education, work experience, and pursuit of additional education. Mariel Cubans are quite comparable to earlier refugee arrivals. Haitians come from mare modest origins which are, however, considerably above average for their country of origin; they have also demonstrated greater willingness to acquire an education in the United States than Cubans and seem somewhat more proficient in English than their Cuban counterparts.
What are the Key Problems Facing the 1980 Refugees?
Although the individual characteristics of the cubans and Haitians arriving in 1980 do not indicate massive disadvantages, our study indicates that their problems of adaptation have been far more dramatic. Table III presents the relevant information. The number of Mariel Cubans unemployed and looking for work at the time of the survey represented 27 percent of the sample, a figure thrice as large as among the U.S. Cuban population in 1979 and at least twice as large as among Cuban refugees arriving in the seventies. The corresponding
-i-e mn Ha-asi 9prcndcesn amngmae tof 39aret
Table III about here
These overwhelming unemployment levels are not, however, the whole story. Among those gainfully employed, median earnings in 1979 constant dollars were slightly over $500 per month for Cubans and $400 for Haitians. For comparison, Cuban refugees arriving during the early seventies earned the equivalent of (1979) $765 on the average after three years in the country. Median household incomes among Mariel Cubans at the time of the survey was $786 in 1979 dollars, a figure $83 lower than among the 1973 refugees after the same period in the U.S. and almost 500 less than for the U.S. Cuban population as a whole.
Haitian households in our survey received a median of $461 in 1979
dollars, less than half that reported by the Census for the Haitian population nationwide. These abysmal income levels are reflected in the poverty status of our samples. Twenty-six percent of Maciel Cuban households and fully 61 percent of Haitian boat people, lived in poverty after three years in the United States. By comparison only 8 percent of 1973 Cuban refugee households experienced poverty after three years in the United Stte an hessfgr o h w
pre-1980 immigrant populations hovered between 20} ad 25 percent.
Recent Cuban and Haitian: refugees are thus severely disadvantaged
economically not only in comparison with the American population as a whole. but also relative to their own communities. At the same time, however, Mariel
Cu a s e m to fr -o -, tv b t l tha -ait - ..;.te tl wihi an
employment, the occupational status differences are considerable. Thirteen
percent of Mariel Cubans in this situation are self-employed, a figure which is
actually higher than among 1973 arrivals after three years in the United States;
among Haitians, only one respondent was found to own his own business.
Approximately 10 percent of employed Mariel refugees have attained professional
or managerial positions, a level which compares favorably with the 1973 cohort;
the corresponding figure among Haitian refugees is one percent. Eniployed
Haitians concentrate overwhelmingly in domestic service, farm labor,. and unskilled
blue-collar occupations.What Accounts for the Differences?
The dismal economic situation portrayed by the; above results is
subjectively perceived: Thirty-one percent of Cubans and fully 52 percent of
Haitians declared that economic difficulties were the p rincipal problem that-they
had confronted since arrival. This response was more frequent than language
barriers, family separation, cultural adaptation, or any other. These results
suggest a two-fold question: First, what accounts for the singularly unsuccessful
performance of these groups in the South Florida economy, despite the "human
capital" and motivations brought from their home countries? Second. what
accounts for the consistent differences observed between Cubans and Haitians
with regard to both employment and income?
Concerning the first question, Mariel Cubans in particular were not at a
a temporary status as "entrants, status pending." They thus became ineligible for assistance under the 1980 Refugee Act or earlier programs; subsequent aid, including job-training and employment assistance, was either late or more limited than that available to earlier refugees. 2) Many Mariel Cubans lacked kin and friends living in the United States who could provide assistance during the early resettlement period. Absence of such networks also made it harder to find suitable employment, particularly in Cuban-owned enterprises. 3) The negative image which the estimated 5 percent of mental health patients and social deviants
aboard the Mariel flotilla gave to the entire exodus generated an unfavorable reception within the Cuban community itself.
Evidence of the last two points is presented in Table TV. Mariel entrants had an average of only three relatives awaiting them in the United States as opposed to ten for Cubans arriving in the early seventies. The amount of help received from these kin networks was also reported to be considerably lower in 1980 than what it had been in 1973. Discrimination by Anglos is not perceived as a problem among Mariel Cubans. Only 2 percent of our respondents reported frequent experiences of discrimination by white Americans. This result stands in stark contrast with the 75 percent of the sample who indicated that "older" (pre-198S0) Cubans discriminated against them and the 21 percent who reported frequent experiences of anti-Mariel discrimination in the Cuban community.
Yet, despite these massive disadvantages, 1980 Cuban refugees fared
significantly better than their Haitian counterparts. Part of the reason is the lower educational levels of the latter, although English skills are actually more
much support the few existing relatives or friends were willing to provide, it would not have gone far given their number and their own frequently difficult situation.
A final reason for the gap has to do with the presence of a fairly well-developed Cuban enclave economy in Miami. Mariel refugees with the necessary networks and contacts could find suitable employment in Cuban-owned enterprises. Knowledge of English is less necessary for such jobs, while Cuban-acquired education counts for more within the enclave than in the "outside" labor market (Wilson and Portes, 1980; Portes and Bach, 1985). Thus, immigrant economic advancement in South Florida is not only a matter of having extensive family networks and obtaining their support, but of the kind of help this support can yield. Immigrants who come into a setting where a significant segment of the local economy is in the hands of their co-nationals can put their work skills and social contacts to greater advantage than those who must fend for themselves in the open labor market.
Table IV about here
Evidence of this process is presented in the bottom rows of Table IV.
Forty-two percent of employed Mariel refugees worked in 1983 in firms owned by other Cubans. Added to the self-employed whose businesses catered unanimously to a mostly Cuban clientele, this figure means that over half (55%) of employed 1980 arrivals had been absorbed in the Cuban enclave economy after three years.
Contrary to common belief, employment in the immigrant enclave economy is not necessarily more advantageous than outside of it. As seen in Table IV, Mariel refugees working in Cuban-owned firms earned about the same on the average as those employed in Anglo-owned enterprises or elsewhere.
What Can be Done9
Widespread unemployment and poverty among these refugee groups indicate that their adaptation process has been most problematic. Clearly, the principal responsibility for this situation lies not with their own abilities and motivations but with the social context that received them. These have been unwelcome immigrants, wanted apparently by no one and even lacking at times a friend or relative to ease the first steps of adaptation. Should this situation continue indefinitely, it could easily result in the rise of a group of "unmeltable ethnics" and their mass entry into criminal or underground activities. Although there is little evidence of crime in our samples, we have estimated that approximately one-third of employed Cubans and Haitians worked in 1983 for *informal" enterprises in garment, construction, commerce, and the like which violated tax, minimum wage, and labor standards laws. This. estimate is based on a discriminant analysis of responses to employment and income items in our 1985 survey; results suggest that many of these refugees have been compelled to accept highly exploitative jobs as the only alternative to unemployment (Portes and Stepick, 1984).
construction of an ethnic enclave economy in Miami (Boswell and Curtis, 1984; Wilson and Martin, 1982). Our data on self-employment and occupational aspirations of 1980 arrivals indicate that they are poised to follow the same path, although they have been seriously hampered by lack of governmental support and by the rejection experienced in their own community. In their case, subsidized credit programs to help development of small businesses would be especially appropriate. This assistance should be complemented by special ESL instruction programs to help counteract the tendency of first-generation Cubans to remain monolingual, especially when confined into ethnic neighborhoods (Boswell and Curtis. 1984: Portes and Bach, 1985).
Changing existing negative stereotypes about Mariel refugees within the
Cuban community is principally the responsibility of the existing Cuban-American organizations. Although the Cuban-American National Foundation, the Cuban National Planning Council. and the Spanish-American League against Discrimination have all declared their support for Marie immigrants, more work needs to be done. This will require the active commitment and participation of Cuban-American leaders, including those newly-elected to office in the city of Miami and its environs. The presence of a diversified and influential Spanish-language media in the area represents probably the most effective instrument to reach recalcitrant elements in the Cuban community (Boswell and Curtis, 1984). Public events, such as the Mariel Cultural Festival, held in Miami in 1983. are also effective niear.s of highlighting the common interests of members of this minority.
their arrival. Signs of independent entrepreneurship among Haitians are still feeble, although some efforts are being made in this direction.[2j Nevertheless. the overwhelming majority of Haitians aimo at receiving paid work and it is this need which must be addressed first. ESL programs and vocational training targeted on the development or upgrading of occupational skills brought from Haiti are the major priorities.
Along with them, it is important to strengthen the existing organizations
representing this minority. Given their recent arrival, few Haitians have become citizens or are eligible to vote. They are thus collectively unable to counteract widespread discrimination, from white and black Americans alike, through established political channels (Miller, 1984; Stepick, 1984). Ethnic. organizations such as the Haitian Refugee Center; the Haitian Task Force, and the Haitian-American Community Association of Dade (HACAD) are at present the only voice of this group and, ii the short-term at least, appear as the only viable channels for easing a most difficult process of adaptation.
-The most important measure, however, is regularizing the status of these
refugees in the United States. A majority of them have started to develop roots in the local community and, despite the many difficulties confronted so far, intend to stay. In our sample, fully 81 percent indicated that, were they free to make the decision again, they would come to the United States. Although the present Administration has vigorously pursued the program of high-seas interdiction against new Haitian arrivals, it is riot likely to press the case for deportation against those who have been in the country for several years. Since this refugee group
-- 31980-81 entrants, both Cubans and Haitians, has been introduced by congressman Peter Rodino and similar provisions are part of the Simpson-Rodino-Mazzoli immigration reform bill. At the time of this writing, however, neither initiative has been enacted.
Despite the drama surrounding their arrival and the many difficulties
confronted during their early years in the United States, we believe that the" process of adaptation of Mariel refugees and Haitian boatpeople can be successful if aided by modest but well-designed public policies and by community support. Since the context of reception of each group is so different, policies should be tailored to meet their separate needs. Those outlined above will go a long way toward smoothing the process' of transition and moving these groups out of their
present pariah status and into full-fledged membership into our society.
Distributions of 1983-64 Cuban and Haitian Samples by Area and Sex*
Miami Hialesh Unincoparated Miami Ft. Belle Totals
each ______ Oade _____ Lauderdale Glade _____Si Si 7. 7, V.
Cubans Females 29.7 42.3 43.6 33.8 35.6
Males 70.3 57,7 64,4 66.2 64.4
Totals 12.5 18.9 7.6 61.1 100.0
<64) t97~ 29) 314) (514)
Haitians Females 46.0 53.7 44.2 59.1
Males 34.0 46.3 55.8 40.9
Totals 60.1 19.0 20.8 100.0
200) ~95) U04) (499)
*Actual numbers in parentheses.
Mar let 1973-76 1979 U.S. Haitian 1979 u.S.
Refugees, Cuban Cuban Refugees, Haitian
Variable Categories 1983-S4 RefugeesE4] PopulationC5] 1983-84, Population
Age Median 34.0 40.2 40.3 29 28.9
Marital t Single 42.6 17.1 ---- 49.8 ---a
Place at Last Z Living 83.9 79.2 ---- 34.3 -Residence in Cities over
Before Emigra- 50,000
Education in Years Completed 9.1 8.6 ---- 4.6 -Cuba/Haiti % High School 25.4 22.0 40.2 4.9 55.9
Education in Average Months
U.S. Completed 4.8 3.0 ---- 7.0 -,& English
Courses Only 55.0 24.6 ---86.3 ..
Knowledge of 7. None 57.4 44.8 44-i.0 ..
English 7. Some 20.0 31.5 a--- 36.8-SModerate/
-Fluent 22.6 23.7 ---19.86-Occupation in 7. Prafessianal/ Cuba/Haiti & Managerial 14.0 10.0 9-- .2 -7.Skilled Blue
Collar 23.7 22.2 ---- 26.0 -7.Clerical and
Services 11.5 44.0 ---- 16.8 '-
Employment~ Income and Poverty
Mar lel 1373-76 1979 U.S. Haitian 1779 U.S.
Refugees, Cuban Cuban Refugees, Haitian
Variable Categaries 1983-84C32 Re*u eesC7J PapulatianC5j 1983-84E32 PopulationES)
Eiployuent 7.Vnemplayed-Total 26.8 14.0E82 8.4 58.5 13.3
I Unemployed-Males 25.8 14.0 6.8 38.8 12.3
Income- Median 1979 523 765 --a- 419
Individuals Dollars per
Income- Median 1979 786 869 1263 461 11a4
Households Dollars per
Poverty 7. at Households 26.0 7.7 20.5 61.0 25.6
Unemployment Average Months 11.2 1.1 ---- 17.8
Past Three Years
Occupation 7* Self-employedt9) 13.2 6.0 0.1 an a
Specialty Occupations ia.o 8.9 10.7 7.5
Social Networks, Perceptions of Discrimination,
and Participation in the Ethnic Economy
Mariel Refugees 1973-76: Haitian Refugees
Variable Category 1983-8.___.5[S Cuban RefugeesC7] 1983-84,t5]
Number of Relatives Mean 3.1 10.2 1.5
Help Received from 7. Great Dal/ 61.0 75.6 77.3
Relatives Fair Amount
7. Little or None 39.0 24.4 22.7
Has Suffered Ohs- 7. Frequently 2.4 0.9 S.8E112
crimination by 7. Occasionally 20.2 39.5 14.2
Angles 7. Never 77.4 59.6 80.0
Older Cubans Dig- 7, Yes 74.6 ---- -criminate Against
Has Suffered Ois- 7. Frequently 21.0 ....--crimination by % Occasionally 30.7--...
Older Cubans 7. Never 45.3 ---e-'
Ethniciiy of 7. Self 13.2 8.0 0.1
Employers % Cuban 42.0 31.2 10.0h12]
% Anglo/Other White 44.8 60.8 68.0
7.Slack 0.0 0.0 20.8
Z Haitian 0.0 0.0 1.1
Median Monthly Cuban Firms 801 ---n-Earnings by Ethnicity Anglo Firms 799...-of Employers Others 807 ---- -(1983 Dollars)
 Results of this earlier research are summarized in Alejandro Portes and
Robert L. Bach. Latin Journ'ey. Cuban and Mexican Immigrants in the United States, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, Results pertaining to
1973 Cuban refugees are presented in Alejandro Portes. Juan Clark, and Manuel
Lopez; "Six Years Later, a Profile of the Process of corporation of Cuban
Exiles. in the United States," Cuban Studies 11 (July 1981): 1-24.
 In particular by groups such as the Haitian-American Community
Association of Dade (HACAD) and the Haitian Task Force with support from the
local Chamber of Commerce and outside agencies such as the Ford Foundation.
See Stepick, 1984.
 Source: Authors' research.
[41 Source: A. Portes and R.L. Bach. Latin Journey, Cuban and Mexican
4 Immigrants in the United States. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.
15] Foreign-born persons who arrived between 1970 and 1980. Source: U.S.
Bureau of the Census. Detailed Population Characteristics, Unit 'ed States Summary.
Washington, D.C., March 1984, Table 255.
 The 1973-76 and 1983-84 samples were limited to adults aged 18 to 65.
The Census figures include the entire population; exclusion of the under-18 and
over-65 categories does not alter them significantly.
 ,Source: A. Portes, J.M. Clark, and M.M. Lopez, "Six Years Later, a
181 Includes all those out of the labor market and is thus an overestimate of the unemployment rate (involuntary) in this sample.
91 Employed individuals only.
1101 For a household of three in the respective years: 1976, 1979, and 1983.
(11] In the Haitian survey, the question referred to discrimination by Black Americans.
 Includes other Latin employers.
Bach, R., J. Bach, and T. Triplett (1981). "The flotilla 'entrants': latest and
most controversial," Cuban Studies 11: 29-48.
Boswell, T. and J. Curtis (1984). The Cuban-American Experience. Totowa,
New Jersey: Rowman and Allanheld.
Clark, J., J. Lasaga, and R. Reque (1981). The 1980 Marie! Exodus: An
Assessment and Prospect. Washington, D.C.: Council for Inter-American
Lundahi, M. (1979). Peasants and Poverty: A Study of Haiti. London.
Miller. J. (1984). The Plight of Haitian Refugees. New York: Praeger. Perusek, G. (1984). "Haitian emigration in the early twentieth century,"
International Migration Review 18 (1): 4-18.
Portes, A. and J. Curtis (1985). "Determinants of naturalization among recent
Mexican immigrants, re-analysis of a six year follow-up," Paper presented at
the second conference on Citizenship, National Association of Latin American
Elected Officials. Los Angeles, November.
Portes, A. and A. Stepick (1985). "Plight into despair; a profile of recent
Haitian refugees in South Florida," International Migration Review
Stepick, A. (1982). Haitian Refugees in the United States. London: Minority
Stepick, A. (1984). "The Haitian informal sector in Miami," The Urban informal
Wilson, K. and W. Martin (1982). "Ethnic enclaves: a comparison of the Cuban
and black economies in Miami,9' American Journal of Sociology 88: 135-160. Wilson, K. and A. Portes (1980). "Immigrant enclaves: analysis of the labor
market experiences of Cubans in Miami," American Journal of Sociology 86: