Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Hispanics have surpassed blacks and are officially the nation’s largest minority group, the Census Bureau reported yesterday.
The nation’s 37 million Hispanics account for 13 percent of the population, while blacks represent 12.7 percent of the country’s 285 million residents.
The Hispanic population grew to 37 million in July 2001, up 4.7 percent from April 2000. The black population increased 2 percent during the same period, to 36.2 million.
Whites remained the largest single population group, representing nearly 70 percent, or about 196.2 million in July 2001.
The figures released yesterday confirmed what some people have been saying for some time, though that Hispanics outnumbered blacks in the United States.
Even in 2000, when the census figures were first released, Hispanics constituted 12.6 percent of the population to 12.4 by blacks. But no conclusion was drawn at the time because the census form used a box that allowed users to mark themselves as mixed race, confusing the issue.
By including an estimated 5 million uncounted Hispanics, the edge has gone to that population group for at least the last three years.
“This is really confirming what we saw in 2000,” said Joseph Costanzo, a demographer at the Census Bureau.
The revelation that the nation’s Hispanic population grew 58 percent nationally between 1990 and 2000 jolted many people.
“At that time, people seemed to discuss how it was we came to find this big an increase,” Mr. Costanzo said. “It was the first time we were looking at race in combination. But with this release, we find we were right.”
Hispanic activists have asserted since 2000 that they were the largest minority in the United States, often adding in Puerto Rico’s population for an edge. Although the Census Bureau does conduct a count in Puerto Rico, it does not count the U.S. territory’s population in with total U.S. numbers.
Yesterday’s official confirmation has the potential to give the Hispanic community new leverage politically and economically.
“Hispanics will soon be much larger than the black population,” said Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. “I hope this means that people will begin to recognize that Hispanic is not secondary and just as important as the African-American community when it comes to looking at issues and forming policy.”
Given the high birthrate and relative youth of the Hispanic population, and the continuing influx of Hispanic immigrants into the country, the numbers will undoubtedly continue to escalate.
And with that, Mr. Wilkes’ hopes for a new appreciation for the Hispanic community may be realized.
“This will vastly transform our political and social landscape,” said James H. Johnson Jr., a business demographer at the University of North Carolina. “And this growth will continue for the foreseeable future. You will see schools and governmental institutions having to get used to this. You already see politicians speaking Spanish. This will only increase.”
Mr. Johnson, who heads the Urban Investment Strategies Center at the university, has predicted since the mid-1990s that the nation’s Hispanic population would see tremendous growth.
His forecast came true in his home state, when 2000 census figures found pockets of Hispanic growth that exceeded 100 percent.
“By 2050, Hispanics will represent 25 percent of the national population,” Mr. Johnson said. “Even now, being bilingual means being competitive in the new economy. And that goes for both new residents speaking English, as well as others learning to speak Spanish.”
Yesterday’s numbers did not tally the ethnic origin of the nation’s Hispanics, but the Census Bureau’s most recent report on heritage states that in the United States, Mexicans make up 58.5 percent of all Hispanics, 9.6. percent are Puerto Rican, 3.5 percent are Cuban, 2.2 percent are Dominican, 4.8 percent are Central American, 3.8 percent are South American, and all other Hispanics are 17.6 percent of the total.

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