Hispanic Influx Reshaping Big Cities

Anushka Asthana, Washington Post, August 22, 2006

Anushka Figueroa recently decided to make a change. She gave up her life in California’s Silicon Valley and headed to Phoenix to work in marketing. The 37-year-old, originally from Puerto Rico, said she was searching for a better quality of life.

Her new home, she says, offers all the benefits that California did when her family moved there in the ‘70s. “California became too expensive,” she said, “and Phoenix has advanced dramatically. It is the best decision I have ever made, and I would not go back.”

An influx of Hispanics such as Figueroa has reshaped many urban areas’ demographics; demographers say non-Hispanic white people soon will be a minority in 35 of the country’s 50 largest cities.

An analysis of census data released last week has shown that the white non-Hispanic population in three more of America’s 50 largest cities has become a minority. In Phoenix, Tucson and Denver, the non-Hispanic white population has recently fallen below 50 percent, according to William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.

He predicts that four more cities will soon follow. Non-Hispanic whites will become a minority in Arlington, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; in Las Vegas within two years; and in Austin, Texas, within four years, he said.

Although the changes were once driven by “white flight,” Frey said, something else contributed in the cities that most recently reached the tipping point. While they were still losing some whites, the more dramatic shift was the increase in Hispanics, some of whom were moving from California and elsewhere in the United States in search of a better—and more affordable—life.

Figueroa is part of a Hispanic population in Phoenix that has increased from 34 percent of the population to 48 percent in just five years.

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Speaking from his Phoenix office, he said growth has created a greater demand for labor, particularly in construction. He said Arizona has 35,000 Hispanic-owned businesses, adding that the “Hispanic population in the state of Arizona have $26 billion in buying power.” The local white population, he said, has benefited from a Hispanic-driven boost to the economy.

The demographic shift has social as well as economic consequences. Schools have to cope with more children who don’t natively speak English, and politicians have to accept that their constituencies have changed.

“They will wake up one morning, and it will be a different city,” Frey said.


The signs have been there for some time. José is a popular baby name in Arizona, and salsa has outsold ketchup for years around the country.

Now Tucson officially has joined a list of 31 cities with a predominantly minority population. Phoenix and Denver also are new additions.

In the Old Pueblo, slightly more than half of the 507,362 residents belong to an ethnic minority group. Most, about 41 percent, are Hispanic, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data. In all of Pima County, Anglos remain the majority.

“Cities in the West are now experiencing a lot of the diversity that was first experienced in California,”said William Frey, a demographics expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

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Lorraine Lee, who leads the nonprofit Chicanos Por La Causa, said the demographic shift will be felt in many areas, including education and politics. Minorities, she said, eventually should be reflected in all sectors of the community—both public and private.

“We should not be feared, but rather, we should all work together to recognize that through our differences we can become stronger and better as a community,” said Lee, who is of Mexican and Chinese descent.

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