Surge in U.S. Hispanic Population Driven by Births, Not Immigration

Conor Dougherty and Miriam Jordan, Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2008

Hispanics now account for more than 15% of the U.S. population, and their surge is largely the result of births among people already in the country, according to new Census Bureau data.

In an annual report, the Census said there are 45.5 million Hispanics in the U.S., up from 35.7 million in 2000, when they made up 12.6% of the population. It said growth among Hispanics was responsible for half of the U.S. population gains between 2000 and 2007.

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In the 1990s, a flood of Hispanic immigrants explained most of the group’s population rise. That has changed in recent years. Between 2006 and 2007, about 62% of the increase in Hispanics came from births.

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Hispanics increasingly are venturing beyond their traditional centers of population and moving to the Southeast and the Midwest, in search of better opportunities and a lower cost of living.

Key to Survival

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“Latinos will become increasingly important because of their sheer numbers,” said Daranee Petsod of Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, an advocacy group.

Growth in spending by Hispanics is likely to outstrip that of the general population in coming years. Hispanics control more disposable income than any other minority group. The figure stands at $860 billion a year and is expected to hit $1.3 trillion by 2012, according to Jeffrey Humphreys, who monitors Hispanic demographic and economic trends at the University of Georgia’s Selig Center.

In recent years, consumer-goods companies such as Procter & Gamble and other businesses have invested significantly more advertising dollars to reach Hispanics, both in Spanish and English.

Between 2000 and 2007, 16 states—among them West Virginia, Illinois and New Jersey—saw their white population decline, according to the new Census data. Over the same period, whites accounted for a majority of population growth in only 11 states.

Younger on Average

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Hispanic families tend to have more children. The population is also younger on average, so the large number of births isn’t balanced out by deaths. Between July 2000 and 2007, there were 8.4 Hispanic births for every death. African-Americans had 2.4 births per death. The ratio for whites was 1.6.

As Americans age and the baby boom generation retires, Hispanics may help buttress the economy and the Social Security system. The average white woman in the U.S. has 1.8 children, which is under the replacement rate of 2.1 necessary to maintain a stable population. Hispanic women, meanwhile, give birth on average to 2.8 children.

According to the Pew Research Center, whites are projected to make up only 45% of the working-age population in 2050, down from 68% in 2005. The center projects that the share of Hispanics in the working-age population will rise to 31% from 14%. The ratio of senior citizens to working-age people age 25 to 64 will grow to 411 seniors per 1,000 working-age people in 2030 from 250 per 1,000 in 2010, according to Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California.

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Many immigrants are bypassing traditional gateway states in the Southwest, while many U.S.-born Hispanics have left states like California. “They are finding it more difficult to find work at the cost of living that’s needed in some of the initial gateways” like California and Arizona, says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. There are shifts within the gateway states, as well.

Settling in Small Towns

Hispanics have also settled in small towns, to take jobs in such industries as meatpacking, textiles and construction. The children of Latin American immigrants are helping offset a decline or slower growth in the school-age population in states such as Georgia and Iowa. In Minnesota, the Hispanic population grew 166% during the 1990s, almost three times the rate for the country overall.

Many of these Hispanic communities are now growing swiftly even without taking immigration into account. “The base population of Hispanics already here is so large that it is virtually impossible for immigration to play as important a role in population growth as it has historically,” said Mr. Humphreys of the University of Georgia.

The spreading out of Hispanic workers is causing changes in communities across the country, and some stresses. Communities must address language difficulties and educational needs of Hispanic students, who have historically scored lower on standardized tests than other students and recorded higher dropout rates.

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