Census 1 in 4 U.S. kids under 5 is Latino
Washington Post
May 1, 2008


Minorities account for 34% of nation's population, census finds

by N.C. Aizenman

WASHINGTON - Hispanics, the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group, now account for about one in four children younger than 5 in the United States, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released today.

The increase from nearly one in five in 2000 has broad implications for governments, communities and schools nationwide, suggesting that the meteoric rise in the Hispanic population that demographers forecast for midcentury will occur even sooner among younger generations.

The newly released figures show that the nation's Hispanic population grew by 1.4 million in 2007 to reach 45.5 million people, or 15.1 percent of the total U.S. population of 301.6 million. African-Americans ranked as the second-largest minority group at 40.7 million people.

Overall, the nation's 102.5 million minorities accounted for 34 percent of the U.S. population, a new milepost on America's inexorable journey toward greater diversity and a harbinger of the growing political clout of non-Whites.

"Hispanics have both a larger proportion of people in their child-bearing years and tend to have slightly more children," said Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center and co-author of a recent study predicting the Latino population will double from 15 percent today to 30 percent by 2050.

"So this means that in five years, a quarter of the 5- to 9-year-olds will be Hispanic, and in 10 years a quarter of the 10- to 14-year-olds will be Hispanic. It's just going to move up through the age distribution with each successive cohort being slightly more Hispanic," Passel said.
The census figures showed a slight drop in immigration to the United States by Hispanics from July 1, 2006, to July 1 vs. the previous 12-month period. That suggests the U.S. economic slowdown might have had some impact on immigration. For nearly a decade, U.S. births have accounted for a far greater share of the growth in the Hispanic population than immigration.

Nonetheless, many researchers warn that the higher-than-average poverty rate of U.S.-born Latino children and the fact that many are raised by immigrant parents pose particular challenges to their education and integration.

"Based on what we know, many in this population may not be growing up speaking English in their homes," said Margie McHugh, co-director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. In a recent study, McHugh found that 75 percent of limited-English-proficient students in Los Angeles County elementary schools were born in the United States.

Adding to the difficulties facing such children, McHugh said, is the fact that Latinos are increasingly moving to states and counties where they have not been historically concentrated.

"Because of the accountability requirements in the No Child Left Behind law, many of these states and localities have already been thinking hard about how to serve these children," she said. "But the gap between the services they have in place and what's needed is quite large."

The shifts in focus and resources that local school systems make to address the needs of growing Latino and immigrant populations can arouse concern and resentment among other residents, said Audrey Singer, a researcher with the Brookings Institution who has studied new immigrant gateway states.

"Schools are often on the frontline for debate in communities because they are on the leading edge of change," Singer said. "People who might not otherwise have an opinion take notice when the schools begin to change."

Yet, the increasing number of Latino youths might enrich mainstream U.S. culture in unexpected ways, Singer said.

"A lot of popular culture comes from youth culture, and we already see the effect of the newest demographic waves in current music and new media," she said.

The rise in the Latino population has been accompanied by significant, if slower, growth among African-Americans and Asians. Minorities account for one-third of the U.S. population.

Chicago Tribune contributed to this article.