In the Under-5 Set, Minority Becoming the Majority

N.C. Aizenman, Washington Post, August 7, 2008

A surge in Hispanic immigration over the past decade has dramatically altered the racial and ethnic composition of the region’s youngest residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released today.

As with minorities in general, immigrants tend to be younger than non-Hispanic whites and still in their childbearing years. As a result, in five suburban Washington counties, more than half of children age 4 and younger were minorities when the annual Census Bureau survey was taken a year ago.

In three of the counties—Prince William, Montgomery and Charles—the share reached about 60 percent. And in Prince George’s, where Hispanic immigration has supplemented an even larger African American population, more than 90 percent of these children are minorities.

The implications for governments and communities are wide-ranging, demographers said. As the current crop of youngsters reaches kindergarten age, school systems that would otherwise be losing students will continue to grow or remain stable. They will also need to accommodate an ever-larger number of students who were raised in immigrant households where English was not spoken.

In addition, although most Hispanic children younger than 5 are native-born U.S. citizens and therefore eligible for government health care and other benefits, research indicates that if their parents are not U.S. citizens, they will be less likely to claim assistance, said Michael Fix, director of studies at the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.

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As these minority children mature, counties that until fairly recently were dominated by non-Hispanic whites are likely to shift to majority-minority status, said William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.

“The bubbling up [of minorities] that we’re now seeing at the younger ages will continue to move up through the age range, through the teenage years, the working-age years and then the housing-buying years,” he said. “The child population is really a microcosm of the future.”

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