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Report: American-Born Hispanic Population Rising

ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

The population of the United States is becoming more and more diverse, due in part to a significant increase in American born Hispanics. That's according to a report released last Wednesday by the Census Bureau based on 2005 figures. NPR's Farai Chideya discussed the report with two leading demographers.

But first, she gets more on the report from Greg Harper of the U.S. Census Bureau.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Can you break down a little bit more about this report? Start with Hispanics, native born and immigrant. What's going on there?

Mr. GREG HARPER (Demographer, U.S. Census Bureau): Well, our latest estimates show that the Hispanic population is at 42.7 million. That's the largest minority group. It's about 14.4 percent of the total population. We showed an increase in that population of 3.3 percent from 2004 to 2005. Now, if you want to break down that increase--which is about 1.3 million--about 800,000 of that 1.3 million was due to natural increase, which was just due to births minus deaths, and the remaining 500,000 was due to immigration.

CHIDEYA: When you talk about minorities or populations of color, we're talking both about race and ethnicity, isn't that correct, because the census doesn't count Hispanic or Latino as a race. It's an ethnicity. Are Latinos or Hispanics expected to also put down a race, and what numbers are you getting on that?

Mr. HARPER: Yes, that's right. Hispanic is not a race. And we're talking about the minority population. We're really talking about the population that is non-Hispanic white. So it does include people of races other than white, as well as Hispanic. If you're Hispanic, you can be of any race. You can be white, black or any of the other census race categories.

CHIDEYA: There's such a vast population of people from different border cultures, for example. And when you keep track of the nonwhite or the minority population, what groups are you tracking? Just a sketch of what you do, not necessarily a full roster.

Mr. HARPER: Well, there's five race groups here, so it's not that long. It's white, black, American Indian and Alaskan Native, Asian, and then Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander.

CHIDEYA: How are African-Americans fairing in terms of population increase when you look especially at the younger members of society?

Mr. HARPER: The black population increased by 1.3 percent, which was slightly faster than the population growth for the population as a whole, which grew at .9 percent.

CHIDEYA: Is the black population overall going to continue to grow as a percent of the American population or not, compared to other groups?

Mr. HARPER: Well, these aren't projections, so we don't really know what will happen in the future. If you look going back, the black population has increased its share of the total population slightly. It's now about 13.4 percent of the population. In census 2000, it was about 12.7, going back a little further to 1990, it was about 12.2. So it is growing slightly faster than the population as a whole, but not as fast as the Hispanic population.

CHIDEYA: Let's talk more about age. You have a Latino population or a Hispanic population which is young, compared to the white population. How does that break down just across Hispanics, whites, and African-Americans?

Mr. HARPER: Well, yes, the Hispanic population is quite a bit younger than the population as a whole. The median age for the Hispanic population in 2005 was 27.2. That compared with the median age for the population as a whole of 36.2. For some perspective, you can compare that to the white non-Hispanic population. The median age for that population was 40.3. So there's quite a big difference, and the Hispanic population is much younger than the population of nonwhite, or for white non-Hispanics.

CHIDEYA: Is there any increase in the Asian Pacific Islander and Native American categories?

Mr. HARPER: Yes. The increase for the Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander group went up by 1.5 percent, which is faster than the national average. The Asian population was the fastest growing race group. They went up by 3 percent from 2004 to 2005. The American Indian population increased by 1 percent, which is just about the national average.

CHIDEYA: What do you take away from these new numbers in terms of what the Census Bureau might do on its next decennial census, which would be in 2010?

Mr. HARPER: Well, these are estimates, and I don't think they really will inform the next census. The estimates do show that the population is becoming increasingly diverse, and with about a third of the population now a member of some minority group.

CHIDEYA: Mr. Harper, thanks so much.

Mr. HARPER: You're welcome.

CHIDEYA: Greg Harper is a demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau.

And now, more on what the numbers mean. Roberto Suro is director of the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C. William Frey is a demographer at the Brookings Institution. He is also in the nation's capital. Welcome, gentlemen.

Mr. ROBERTO SURO (Director, Pew Hispanic Center): Good to be with you.

Dr. WILLIAM FREY (Demographer, Brookings Institution): (unintelligible), Farai.

All right, so let me start with you, Mr. Frey. What's most striking to you about this report?

Dr. FREY: Well, I think the most striking thing is that one out of every two new Americans each year is Hispanic. I think this is a huge marker for us, because it means that our future will be involved with Hispanics having a large segment of our population.

CHIDEYA: And Mr. Suro, did you see this coming? You're here at the Pew Hispanic Center.

Mr. SURO: Yes, because we've been seeing the share of growth of Hispanics increasing pretty steadily over the years, and it's been very close to that mark. And it's a combination of very high fertility and ongoing immigration, paired with relatively low net fertility. There are a lot of white babies being born, but there are a lot of white people who are dying, too. So the net natural increase is lower, and then lower rates of immigration for people who are not Hispanic. So you put those two things together--slow growth on one side and fast growth on the other--and a small share of the population is accounting for a big chunk of the growth.

CHIDEYA: Yet compared to some other nations, some European nations and Japan, white Americans are actually very fertile. So it's just a matter of degrees, I suppose?

Mr. SURO: That's right.

CHIDEYA: Mr. Frey, what else should we be looking at besides the Hispanic or Latino community? What other numbers kind of leapt out at you?

Dr. FREY: Well, an important part of the results here show that the younger part of our population is becoming much more diverse than the older part of the population. Two statistics - the median age for whites in the United States is now slightly over 40. The median age for Hispanics in the United States is 27. That's a 13 year difference just in the median age, and I think that tells us a lot about the nature of our older population versus our younger population.

CHIDEYA: What potential challenges or problems could this present?

Mr. FREY: You know, I think it means that in lots of communities, we already have majority/minority child populations--young people populating the school systems, often speaking a different language, Spanish or some Asian language--needing more resources, needing more services. We have an older population which has been in charge for a long time, and they're not as ready for this, I guess you could say. And in an area of budget tightening and fiscal issues, where we're trying to save our money, I think that accommodation needs to be made between the older and the younger population in order to understand that these people are America's future. We need to treat them right with respect to their education, their social services. So this kind of cultural generation gap, I think, needs to be bridged.

CHIDEYA: Mr. Suro, what about a generation gap within the Latino community? You have many different ethnicities of Latinos. You have many different generations, all the way from people whose families have been here for many different generations, to people who came here as immigrations and naturalized, kids who are both citizens and non-citizens. What kind of bridge building needs to take place within the Latino community in order to, for example, be more effective as a voting block?

Mr. SURO: The very interesting dynamic in the Hispanic community is that over--or the Hispanic population is that really over the last 20, 25 years--in terms of current public policy--our focus has been all on immigration, and that has been the largest source of growth to this population. But in the last few years, the number of births has actually been larger than the number of immigrants coming in. And now, in these estimates, natural increase--the number of births over deaths--accounts for 60 percent of the growth in the Hispanic population.

So while our attention has been on immigration, we are now moving into a different phase, where the big dynamic in the Hispanic population is this very large number of young people who are born here--are native born Americans, who are going to be products of U.S. schools, products of U.S. culture, and the big new demographic force on the scene.

CHIDEYA: There was a lot of talk that, you know, by the year 2050, America would be majority minority. I don't know if that is going to be the magic date or not. But what will happen in this country? What will change in this country when what is already happened among young people, this demographic shift where so many of the young people of color happens to the nation at large? First Mr. Frey, then Mr. Suro.

Dr. FREY: You know, I think we're going to become a more tolerant country. I certainly hope that we will. I mean, we have young people dating folks of other races, having friendship groups of other races, and the young people in the U.S. are not just Hispanics. There are large numbers of African-Americans, large numbers of Asians that are part of this younger group. As they grow up with this multicultural environment, we hope that they'll bring those attitudes into the labor force, into politics, and we won't have this kind of contentious back and forth that we sometimes see that rears its head even in this immigration debate that we're having.

CHIDEYA: Mr. Suro?

Mr. SURO: You know, underscoring what Bill just said, it's important when you look out to the future, that we're talking about a very different kind of population change than what we're used to. We're not talking about a sudden change, you know, new people moving into the neighborhood or a sudden wave of immigrants. We're talking about a change that's going to take place very gradually over many years so that young people today will grow up in that world. They'll be in schools where--if you look at the population under five years old now, whites are 55 percent of that population. So already, kids entering kindergarten now are going to be going to school from the first day with a population that's very mixed.

And so, it'll be a different kind of change. It won't be sort of a shock to the system. People in 2050 will look around and won't say this all of a sudden happened. It will have been something that they were aware of from the time they were very young. And so I think it will produce very different sorts of results than when you get a sudden change.

CHIDEYA: Roberto Suro, William Frey, thanks for joining us.

Mr. SURO: Thank you.

Dr. FREY: Pleasure.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya speaking with Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, and William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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