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Searching for a job, his move to Philly paid off

Samuel Gomez studied to be an electrician in Puerto Rico but couldn't find a job, so he moved to Philadelphia two years ago, following the steps of his mother, who came a few months earlier.

Samuel Gomez studied to be an electrician in Puerto Rico but couldn't find a job, so he moved to Philadelphia two years ago, following the steps of his mother, who came a few months earlier.

Now, he's a maintenance worker for the nonprofit Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, a Latino-based health, human-services and economic-development organization in Feltonville.

"I think Philadelphia has more job opportunities" and bilingual workers, he said yesterday, speaking in Spanish.

Gomez, 21, of Kensington, was one of the 30,116 new residents of Puerto Rican descent who added to the city's Hispanic growth from 2000 to 2010, according to census data being released today.

Hispanics increased by 46 percent in the city, or 58,683 new residents, helping fuel the city's first growth in 60 years. And people of Puerto Rican descent accounted for half of that growth.

The new census data include breakdowns by ethnic group for people who said they were Hispanic or Asian. Hispanics were able to identify themselves as being of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban or other Hispanic origin.

There were about 122,000 people of Puerto Rican descent in the city last year, or about 65 percent of the Hispanic population.

People of Mexican origin, with many living in South Philly, increased by about 9,300 people for a total of 15,531 last year.

Asians were able to identify themselves as of Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese or other Asian origin. The Chinese population witnessed the largest increase with 12,286 more people, for a total last year of about 30,000, accounting for a third of Asians in the city.

John Zhang, 50, who works at Pane Furniture on Bustleton Avenue in the Castor Gardens section of Northeast Philly and lives near the store, moved to the city in 2004 from Flushing, New York.

There were "too many people, too much traffic" in New York, he said earlier this year in an interview, speaking part Mandarin, part English.

He finds Philadelphia attractive because of its low housing prices and because there are "not many people," he said.

Although Zhang is originally from Guangdong Province in southern China, many newcomers are from neighboring Fujian Province, said Yingzhang Lin, chairman of the Greater Philadelphia Fujian Association and vice president of the Greater Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association.

Many live in Northeast and South Philly, Lin said, and came because of the more affordable housing compared with New York, because of easy access to transportation, and the ability to open Chinese restaurants in the city.

With more Chinese restaurants, other businesses like food distribution and construction also grew, providing for more jobs, he said.

Nilda Ruiz, president and CEO of Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, cited similar reasons for the increase in Puerto Ricans in the city. There are "always economic conditions that bring people from Puerto Rico," she said.

Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, first came in large numbers to Philly in the 1940s to work in the tobacco and sugar industries and lived in South Philly, she said. Angel Ortiz, the city's first Latino and first Puerto Rican councilman, 1984 through 2003, said that new Puerto Rican residents came not only from Puerto Rico, but from places like New York.

Economic conditions - including higher unemployment - in Puerto Rico have also pushed people to leave, he said. Government layoffs and the withdrawal of business tax havens created more unemployment on the island.