Black West Indians in the United States - Economy

Included in the Black West Indian population who settled in the United States before World War II were a large number of highly educated or skilled individuals. Because of racial discrimination, however, many were unable to secure professional or skilled employment and took lower-level work as cooks, domestics, and so on until opportunities became available. Some eventually found employment as doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, and teachers, with most of their clientele coming from the African-American and Black West Indian communities. Others began small businesses, usually retail stores or rental real estate properties, financed through partnerships or often through rotating credit associations that provided members with access to capital. Black West Indian business ownership continues today, with estimates in the 1970s indicating that 50 percent of Black-owned businesses in New York were owned by Black West Indians.

In the 1960s, the trend of well-educated Black West Indians immigrating to the United States continued. Many now found it easier to use their professional skills immediately, although the African-American and Black West Indian Communities continued to provide most clients. A sizable percentage of the 1960s immigrants were female nurses. By that decade, the composition of the immigrant population had begun to change, and it now contains a larger percentage of younger, less-skilled people. Many are women, a large number of whom immigrate to work as domestics or providers of child care. This growing population of young, unskilled Black West Indians has led to tensions with the African-American and Latino communities as they are seen as competing for service jobs with men and women in the latter two groups.

The Black West Indian population in the United States also includes a group of about eight thousand to ten thousand men who are imported each year from Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Dominica to cut sugar cane in southern Florida. They enter the country under five- or sixmonth temporary work visas and are paid on the basis of a minimum wage and piece-work system. At least 25 percent of their income is remitted to the local communities from which they were recruited.

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