Economist, March 13, 2015
America is a country built by immigration, but nothing in its history compares to the rise in its Hispanic population. Changes to immigration law in the 1960s triggered a decades-long surge in arrivals, taking the Hispanic population from just 7m in 1970 to 57m today, a number that is set to double by mid-century. At that point one in four Americans will be of Latino descent. In relation to the population of the day, there have been proportionally larger surges in the past, notably involving European migrations in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Two factors make the rise of Hispanic America different. Never before has such a large group of new arrivals lived so close to their ancestral homelands, linked to grandparents in the same time zone by cheap flights and Skype. Secondly, America is entering an era of white decline. For almost two centuries, from the time of George Washington’s presidency to the election of Ronald Reagan, whites of European descent made up at least 80% of the population. That share is below two-thirds now, and the white majority is set to become a minority by 2044. That brings both challenges and opportunities. Today’s Hispanics lag behind whites when it comes to education and wealth. But they are strikingly young, lowering America’s median age and offering workers to fill the labour market when other rich countries face greying decline. Politicians too often discuss Hispanics as almost a single-issue group, as victims or villains of immigration. But five-sixths are legal residents and recent Latino growth has been mostly from births, not new arrivals. Hispanics are dispersing across the country and their political clout will only grow: nearly 1m US-born Latinos reach voting age annually.
Read the full Special Report on America’s Hispanics here.