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The Largest Minority, Hispanics Make A Difference In 37 Million Ways

Hispanics Now Largest Minority, Census Shows


January 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003 NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 21 – Hispanics have edged past blacks as the nation's largest minority group, new figures released today by the Census Bureau showed.

The Hispanic population in the United States is now roughly 37 million, while blacks number about 36.2 million.

The figures, the first detailed findings on race and ethnicity since the 2000 Census was released two years ago, confirm what demographers and many advocacy groups have anticipated for several years. The new numbers are based on new population estimates from July 1, 2001, that were compared with the census figures from April 1, 2000. The figures showed that the Latino population grew by 4.7 percent, while the black population grew by just 1.5 percent. The white, non-Hispanic population, estimated at roughly 196 million, grew by 0.3 percent during the same period.

"It is a turning point in the nation's history, a symbolic benchmark of some significance," said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based research and policy analysis organization. "If you consider how much of this nation's history is wrapped up in the interplay between black and white, this serves as an official announcement that we as Americans cannot think of race in that way any more."

The explosive growth in the Hispanic population results from higher birth rates and from the huge wave of immigration that has taken place in the last decade. The Census Bureau counts all people residing in the United States, whether they are legal immigrants or not.

In addition to their symbolic significance, the figures carry important implications for the allocation of resources. In recent years blacks and Hispanics have often felt in opposition in seeking financing and political representation, and the new numbers could bring fresh tensions.

Some Latino advocacy organizations, perhaps anticipating possible difficulties, are already playing down the significance of the shift. "Rather than comparing groups we should be looking at the status of communities," said Sonia Perez, deputy vice president for research at the National Council of La Raza, a national Latino organization. "When you look at Latino and African-American communities, the elements of the agendas are not that different. We share many of the same issues, interests and values."

In many ways, the new figures are an indication of the growing multiculturalism in American society and the change in the way the Census Bureau allows people to classify themselves. The 2000 census, for the first time, allowed respondents to choose more than one race in identifying themselves. In addition, Hispanics, a cultural and ethnic classification, can be of any race.

While the general African-American population is slightly smaller than the general Hispanic population, the number of Americans who declared themselves as black "in combination with one or more other races" is now 37.7 million, slightly higher than overall figure for Latinos.

"The statistics are in the eyes of their beholders," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan. "What these numbers reveal is a bit of a conundrum. But advocacy groups, policy people and politicians will pick the interpretation of them that works best for them at any given time."

Much of the social and political impact of the population surge may not be immediately apparent. Roughly one quarter of Latinos living in the United States are noncitizens. And while there has been a significant migration of Hispanics to cities in the South, Midwest, and central plains, more than 50 percent of the Latino population remains concentrated in Texas, California and New York.

The speed of population shift, though anticipated, has taken some demographers by surprise. "It came sooner than we thought," said Martha Farnsworth Riche, director of the Census Bureau during the Clinton administration.

Among the factors that contributed to the faster than anticipated growth, said Ms. Farnsworth Riche, was greater cooperation between the Census Bureau and Latino organizations, which helped undocumented migrants feel safer cooperating with census takers.

The slim numerical gap between blacks and Hispanics is expected to widen significantly in the next decade. Deteriorating economic conditions across Latin America, say many demographers, will continue to spur immigration. The birth rate among Latinos is also higher than among blacks.

Researchers expect the spurt to level off in a generation or so, as economic stability leads to lower fertility rates and Hispanics intermarry with other groups with some choosing to identify as black, some as white, and some as a combination of one or more ethnic groups or races.

"It will only get more broad and more complicated," said Mr. Suro. "It's a reminder that we will increasingly, as Americans, need to find new ways of categorizing people and talking about their differences."

Hispanics Now Largest Minority

By Kelly Brewington and Jeff Kunerth | Sentinel Staff Writers

January 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

Population changes during the 1990s.

For the first time in the nation's history, Hispanics have surpassed blacks as the largest minority group, according to estimates released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The figures translate into increased political clout for Hispanics, say some civil-rights advocates, forcing politicians and policy-makers to pay attention to issues such as immigration, language barriers and health care.

They also display a change in how Americans will discuss race relations, broadening a spectrum that has had its focus mostly on black and white, they said.

"It's a question of how we create public policies for the U.S.," said Vibiana Andrade, vice president of public policy for the Los Angeles-based Mexican-American Legal and Education Fund. "Which students will be educated at our finest universities? What kind of health care and decent, high-paying jobs will folks have? I look at this and I think that, politically, the Latino vote has become increasingly important and it will only increase in the future."

While these issues are common concerns of all Americans, particularly low-income groups, Andrade said certain groups have specific needs.

"All communities want access to health care, but for Latinos there are language services and culture issues that have an effect on our access to these services," she said.

Multiracial not included

The Hispanic population grew to 37 million in July 2001, up 4.7 percent from April 2000, while the black population increased 2 percent during the same period, to 36.2 million, bureau estimates show.

The figures are the first race and ethnicity estimates released since the 2000 census. Many demographers predicted the population shifts would occur in 2005.

But the estimates that have Hispanics surpassing blacks do not include those who identified themselves as biracial or multiracial. When people who identify themselves as part black are included, blacks still outnumber Hispanics by 700,000.

Several black civil-rights organizations opposed the inclusion of a multiracial category in the 2000 census for fear it would dilute the number of blacks.

"History has told us that with one drop of black blood, you are black," said Milton Little, executive vice president for the National Urban League in New York. "The census designation changed all that. The downside is what people predicted -- the numbers would seem smaller than they are."

Growing trend

But the demographic imperative is that the Hispanic population is growing faster than the black population and the inevitable consequence is that Hispanics will outnumber blacks -- if not now, soon.

"The fact of the matter is the projections people were making are coming true. The trend is going to continue," Little said. "It means that African-Americans and Hispanics need to continue to work closely together to address the needs that exist in our communities."

In Florida, the demographic changes have been a reality for some time. Hispanics make up 16.8 percent of the population, while blacks comprise 14.6 percent, the 2000 census found.

In Central Florida, the Hispanic population soared 152 percent during the 1990s.

America is becoming more multiracial and multicultural, Andrade said.

"We know that black and white is not the real world and that, in fact, there are racial issues that affect Latinos, Asians and Native Americans," Andrade said.

Clout not automatic

Andrade said there's no single way to interpret the findings or the effect they will have on how race is perceived in America.

In fact, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund in Los Angeles described the census findings in different terms, avoiding the word "minority" and saying Hispanics comprise the nation's second-largest population group.

"Today marks an expected milestone for the nation," Executive Director Arturo Vargas said. "The Latino population infuses our nation with a vitality and richness that comes with a diverse society."

While Hispanics may have eclipsed blacks in numbers, that does not automatically translate into political power, said David Bositis, senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington.

Impact now limited

A third of the nation's Hispanics are not citizens, and with a median age of 25, they are less likely than blacks and non-Hispanic whites to vote. And half the U.S. Hispanic population lives in Texas and California. In most states other than Texas, California and Florida, blacks far outnumber Hispanics.

So the impact of Hispanics surpassing blacks is minimal -- for now, Bositis said.

"In the long term, it will have very significant consequences. That extremely young Hispanic population will become older. They will be more politically active. It will become more influential," he said. "But that's 10 or 15 years down the line."

Hispanic civil-rights advocates say numbers alone won't change how policy-makers address their concerns.

"There is the power of the electorate, but does it change the politician's behavior or their outreach?" said Cecilia Muñoz, vice president for policy at National Council of La Raza, a Washington, D.C., civil-rights organization. "The candidates are speaking Spanish, but they are not saying much about the issues."

The national dropout rate for Hispanic students is about 30 percent, twice that of blacks and three times that of whites, said Brent Wilkes, national executive director for League of United Latin American Citizens.

In addition, others argue, it's a mistake to look at the Hispanic numbers as representing a monolithic group of people, just as it was a mistake to view blacks as a bloc, said Khalil Abdullah, executive director of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.

The U.S. Hispanic population is composed of a multitude of nationalities and of Puerto Ricans, all of whom have differences even within their own groups.

Join or compete?

Although many black organizations cast the numbers in terms of opportunities for Hispanics and blacks to work together in a coalition of common interests, there is also some concern that poor blacks and Hispanics will end up fighting for the same resources.

"There is going to be mass competition for the peanuts the 'haves' will leave on the economic table. That is really what you are talking about," said Adora Obi Nweze, head of Florida's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Others have emphasized the work that blacks and Hispanics have done together. In Osceola County, for example, the NAACP branch elected a Hispanic vice president.

"It's very important that the demographic characteristics of this country are not described as a horse race," Muñoz said. "We did not win a trophy. It's about being equal partners at the table to secure the American dream."

Hispanics Make A Difference In 37 Million Ways

Maria Padilla

January 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

Well, it's official. Hispanics now are the largest minority in the United States -- 37 million people, the Census Bureau announced Tuesday. But it's not as if the nation didn't see it coming.

The keepers of the numbers have been saying for awhile that Hispanics would become the largest minority. It was just a matter of when.

Initial census projections stated "the event" would occur about 2005, which means we are two years ahead of schedule.

Not a whole lot of surprise there, either. Hispanics are multiplying faster than most other groups. A combination of higher birth and immigration rates has fueled this growth.

But here's the important thing: The nation has crossed a significant demographic threshold. There is likely to be political, social and economic fallout. Changes are likely to be felt for many years -- although there are indications of what's to come.

Corporate America and political America have been courting Hispanics very seriously. I think you can see why: If Hispanics are excluded from your plans, you will experience little growth. That is a fact. And it would be death to a political party, an economy, a region, a corporation.

To ignore Hispanics would be akin to overlooking the baby boomers -- and nobody is crazy enough to do that.

Already, Hispanics make up a quarter of the students in Orange County and have surpassed non-Hispanic white students in Osceola County. Hispanics are one of every five riders on the Lynx public-transit system -- which means if Hispanics stopped taking the bus, Lynx would really be in trouble.

Hispanics are opening small businesses at a rapid pace, the Small Business Administration reports. They have been a boon to retailers, because their families are larger and younger, which means more trips to the supermarket and the mall.

And Hispanics have been a plus for the labor pool, supplying needed workers in all industries, but especially the service sector.

Hispanics often are the dreaded low-wage workers you read about elsewhere in the paper. But if truth be told, Hispanics keep the Central Florida economy humming. Just ask Walt Disney World, the region's largest employer.

Lest hubris take over, let's be plain about the many challenges facing Hispanics.

It's important for Hispanics to go to college. If not, Hispanics will be stuck at the bottom of the ladder. The nation as a whole cannot afford to have such a large group with little socioeconomic mobility.

Hispanics need to participate in elections, including voting and supporting candidates. They won't be taken seriously until they do.

It's unclear how interaction with blacks will be affected. After all, for hundreds of years, blacks have been the nation's largest minority.

Blacks opened doors for all people in this country -- including whites -- by staking unpopular positions and taking a lot of heat. It's no exaggeration to say that the latest news is likely to affect the black psyche in ways yet to be explored.

Meanwhile, the population clock keeps ticking. Hispanics are slated to comprise one-fourth of the general population by about 2050.

But the way things are going, that likely will happen a lot sooner.

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