TOPICS > Politics

Census Data Show Hispanic Boom; Blacks Leave Cities for South, Suburbs

March 24, 2011 at 6:30 PM EST
New census data on race and migration released this week show minorities accounted for 90 percent of the growth in the U.S. during the past decade. Ray Suarez discusses the new numbers with the Brookings Institution's William Frey, author Isabel Wilkerson and the Pew Hispanic Center's Mark Hugo Lopez.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight, to another aspect of a changing America.

Ray Suarez looks at the newest census data.

RAY SUAREZ: Racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 90 percent of the growth in the U.S. population over the past decade, and Hispanics were by far the largest part of that increase. That’s one of the headlines from new census data on race and migration.

Latinos made up more than half of the population growth, most rapidly in the South. Today, one of every six Americans, about 50 million people, is Hispanic. The data also found more than 50 percent of children in at least 10 states are minorities. Many of the cities with the largest African-American populations, including Chicago and Detroit, saw declines, as residents moved to suburbs and to the South.

All of the 10 largest metropolitan areas grew over the past decade, with growth concentrated outside the urban centers.

We get perspective now with three people who watch all this closely. William Frey is a demographer with the Brookings Institution. Isabel Wilkerson is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.” And Mark Lopez is associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center.

Well, Bill Frey, let me start with you.

The Hispanic number seems to be the headline that is catching everybody’s attention. Why is it significant?

WILLIAM FREY, Brookings Institution: Well, significant because it’s hit this 50 million benchmark. I think that sticks in people’s mind.

It also is significant because it accounted for more than half of the growth in the United States. But it’s, in addition, significant if you juxtapose it against the very small growth of the white population. The white Anglo population grew less than 2 percent this last decade.

And so this is a way of looking at our country which is kind of aging with respect to our old established white population, and this new growth of a more youthful Latino population. I think, much more so than in the last decade when the census numbers came out, we’re seeing that a lot of these communities would have lost more people, would not have gained as much, were it not for this growing younger Latino population in all different parts of the population.

RAY SUAREZ: And Mark Lopez, it’s no longer a story of just the border states and the coasts, is it?

MARK HUGO LOPEZ, Pew Hispanic Center: No, it’s not.

It’s actually a story of Hispanic population growth in all parts of the country, whether we’re talking about states like California and Texas, or even states such as Georgia or Alabama or Tennessee, particularly in the Southeast. We saw Hispanic populations in those areas double in states like Tennessee and Arkansas and North Carolina over the last decade.

RAY SUAREZ: Double from a very small base, though, compared to California and New York and Florida, right?

MARK HUGO LOPEZ: Well, in the case of Georgia, it was doubling from about 435,000 to over 850,000 in the last decade, but yes, in many cases, for Alabama, for example, a relatively small base.

RAY SUAREZ: Isabel Wilkerson, the story that is playing out with the census seems to be the reverse of the one you told in your book. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the people who left the South are coming back? Why?

ISABEL WILKERSON, “The Warmth of Other Suns”: Yes, I think, in some ways, this is a second wave, a continuation of that search for a place in the American mainstream.

I think that the migration is going in multiple directions. One is to the suburbs within the cities, outside of the cities of the great migration itself. In other words, the children and the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren are actually moving outside of the central cities that had drawn their grandparents and parents who had been part of the great migration.

And then others are returning to the ancestral homeland of the South. And they are also moving to the suburbs of these major cities, such as Atlanta, Houston and Charlotte.  

RAY SUAREZ: Well, what does this mean for the South of 2011, of today, but also of 2020 and 2030? For much of the last 100 years, the South was a place that minorities fled. It was the most uniformly native-born of all our regions of the country. It is a new place now?

ISABEL WILKERSON: Well, it’s my contention that the dispersal, the outpouring of people from the South, in fact, put pressure on the South and on the North and helped to change the South, and made it a more welcoming place, which has occurred since the civil-rights era, and in many respects has made it a more welcoming place for not just African-Americans to return to their ancestral homeland, but also for other groups, for Latinos, and for even — even Northern whites, who find it a place that is more to their liking, more open and more welcoming.

And I think that this is all a positive thing, in a way, because it’s a dispersal of people who had been marginalized and concentrated in one area. And so now you have people all over the country who have been marginalized before, concentrated in one area, now mainstreaming into the rest of the country.

RAY SUAREZ: Mark Lopez, with the numbers showing that blacks are declining in places like New York and Chicago and Detroit, are Latinos taking their place in some of those cities?

MARK HUGO LOPEZ: In some cases, yes.

And we have seen certainly a large amount of Latino population growth in many cities across the country. And also, we have certainly seen that in many cases where Latinos had a large presence, their presence has increased in places such as Los Angeles, for example, where almost half of the population in the city of Los Angeles is of Hispanic background.

But we have seen this growth in the Hispanic population in all parts of the country. So, it’s a phenomenon that’s not just along the South, but is also in many other metropolitan areas around the country.

RAY SUAREZ: Bill Frey, is the America of the future taking shape in these numbers?

One — one piece of data that just sort of stuck out at me, the young population in this country grew by 3 percent, and minority youth grew by 22 percent.

WILLIAM FREY: That’s right. And there’s actually an absolute decline in the young white population in the United States and a small absolute decline in the African-American young population in the United States. So, it’s new minorities that are fueling all of this growth among the young people.

Forty-six states lost children, white children, under age 18. There was an absolute decline in 46 states. And only about the half the states gained children. And the reason they did is because they were getting more Hispanic kids. So, our future, really, our future labor force in the next 10 years and our future electorate and all of this, is really not with the sort of aging white population anymore.

It’s not because — only because they are having fewer children. It’s just they have an age structure where there are fewer women in the childbearing years. And it’s this more youthful Hispanic population which is taking over.

And what I think it means is, we need to pay a lot of attention to the diversity of our young people in our schools and in all our other government services that we offer. It’s something — it’s a window on the future, but it’s something we need to act on now.

RAY SUAREZ: So, Isabel Wilkerson, I guess a lot of states that have no experience hiring ESL teachers are going to get some very soon, huh?

ISABEL WILKERSON: That’s what I mean by this mainstreaming.

It is an opportunity for the entire country to experience a diversity that only some parts of the country have had the opportunity to experience. And I think that it gives us all a chance to be able to see how the country has truly grown. We have come a long, long way from the earlier parts of the 20th century when there were certain parts of the country that were not very welcoming to diverse groups of people.

I also see this as an opportunity for — for people who are in the suburbs to see the suburbs changing. This is in some ways the suburbanization of the African-American population, which is a new way of looking at what’s happening in the cities.

As these cities depopulate of their traditional African-American constituency, we’re seeing that that culture and that that political power that they had been able to build up over the years since the great migration is now being dispersed. And that’s something that we will be observing in the next few years, as well, and decades.

RAY SUAREZ: There have been big consequences for the Great Lakes states in these new numbers. Michigan and Puerto Rico were the only places that lost in absolute terms. But there was near stagnation or — or sort of holding level over the last 10 years in a lot of Wisconsin counties, Illinois, Indiana, and so on.

WILLIAM FREY: No, that’s absolutely true.

And, you know, again, this is part of the country that, for a variety of reasons, economically, just hasn’t caught on to where the real growth was. But the demographic aspect of these countries (states) is again these kind of aging, largely white population, which don’t have that fertility.

And they’re very dependent — going back to the Latino growth again, 18 states in this country, half of their growth in the last decade came from Latinos. And we’re talking about states like Nebraska and Iowa and Kansas, not just Florida and Texas and California.

So, I mean, I think that it’s a benchmark decade in some ways, because, especially in these slow-growing states, there are opportunities with these new immigration waves to help bolster up those populations, of course with all the other strategies you need to take to create jobs in a new economy.

RAY SUAREZ: Mark, do we know yet, has the Census Bureau let on yet, how much of this Latino increase comes from natural growth of an already resident population versus legal and illegal immigration?

MARK HUGO LOPEZ: Well, the census at 2010 itself won’t tell us about the nativity of individuals.

But we have been following this from other census data sources at the Pew Hispanic Center over the last decade. And one of the things that is striking about this decade for Hispanics is that more population growth among Hispanics has come from native-born births as opposed to new immigration.

Now, both sources are important for the growth in the Hispanic population over this last decade, but in the 1990s, more growth in the Hispanic population came from immigration, rather than from native-born births.

So, looking forward, it looks like, if trends continue, that we will continue to see the native-born births play an important role, and an increasingly important role, in Hispanic population growth through the next few decades.

RAY SUAREZ: They don’t count in the census itself whether a member of the household was born outside the United States?

MARK HUGO LOPEZ: That’s correct.

RAY SUAREZ: Huh. Well, I guess I — just wait — all the waiting in the world for that piece of data won’t — won’t make a difference.

What about the cities, Bill Frey? They have had a tough road over the last — only one big city outside the South and the West grew, and that was New York, but everywhere else, a lot of decline.

WILLIAM FREY: Well, that’s right.

And, you know, the suburbanization phenomenon continues. In lots of parts of the country, we’re now seeing there’s black flight, like the white flight that we have seen for many decades. And it’s especially the case in the Midwest and the Northeast, where — where — the suburbanization and also moving to other regions of the country.

Cities are still important, but lots of them are going to have to face a downsized population and with a very different mix. And a lot of these cities aren’t going to be just black and white anymore, for the reasons we have been talking about.

Chicago is about a third white, a third black, and a third some combination of Hispanic and Asians, a very different image of a city than you would have thought 20 years ago.

RAY SUAREZ: Does that also have a cultural impact, Isabel? Chicago’s black population in this census went down for the first time ever.

ISABEL WILKERSON: Yes. I think that one of the things that is quite startling when you think about the transfer of — of — the flow and inheritance, you might say, of one group to another, of — the African-Americans who came in into the cities during the 20th century inherited the places that Eastern Europeans and Southern Europeans had been living in.

And now they are leaving. And, in some ways, they’re selling to people who had been the children and grandchildren of those who had been part of white flight, which is where you get the gentrification in some of the neighborhoods that makes for an interesting combination of transfer of culture.

On top of that, you have the transfer of culture between the arrival of Latinos, who also are taking a different kind of role that African-Americans might have had. And so I see a lot of movement. I think that we’re all seeing a lot of movement and transfer of culture all the way around, which can only serve to expose all of us to more of what makes America what it is.

RAY SUAREZ: Isabel Wilkerson, Mark Lopez and Bill Frey, thank you all.