Hispanic baby boom transforming small towns
USA Today
June 30, 2008

Immigration debate overlooks natural growth in population

Births, not immigration, now account for most of the growth in the nation's Hispanic population, a distinct reversal of trends of the past 30 years.

The Hispanic baby boom is transforming the demographics of small-town America in a dramatic way. Some rural counties where the population had been shrinking and aging are growing because of Hispanic immigration and births and now must provide services for the young.

"In all of the uproar over immigration, this is getting missed," says Kenneth Johnson, demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute. "All the focus is on immigration. At some point, it's not. It's natural increase."

This natural increase - more births than deaths - is accelerating among Hispanics here because they are younger than the U.S. population as a whole. Their median age is 27.4, compared with 37.9 overall, 40.8 for Whites, 35.4 for Asians and 31.1 for Blacks.

Because they are younger and likely to have more children, Hispanics are having an impact that far outlasts their initial entry into the country. From 2000 to 2007, the Hispanic population grew by 10.2 million - 58.6 percent from natural increase. The total U.S. population grew 20.2 million, about 60 percent from natural increase, in that period.

The influx of Hispanics into parts of the country previously unaccustomed to immigration has intensified this decade. From 2000 to 2005, 221 counties would not have grown except for Hispanics, according to research by Johnson and Daniel Lichter at Cornell University. For declining counties, many in the Great Plains, the growth of young Hispanics may be the only way out of a population spiral.

Because more than half of births to Hispanic immigrants are to low-income women who have no high-school degree, a natural population increase challenges communities, says Steve Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors limits on immigration. "It's a huge growth in low-income population," he says. "If the town is not viable economically, immigration is not going to fix that problem."