By Shadi Rahimi | The New York Times
The generation gap in America is widening by way of race and ethnicity, figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual report released Thursday show. The old are increasingly white, while the young are largely Hispanic, Asian or black.
Hispanics have the fastest growth rate of any racial and ethnic group in the United States - a trend experts say is likely to continue because of a steady pace of immigration and high birth rates - and three times the growth of the U.S. population of nearly 293.7 million people.
One of every seven people in the United States identifies himself or herself as Hispanic, an ethnic group that accounts for about half the growth in the U.S. population since 2000, according to the census report.
One-third of the Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native and black populations in the United States is younger than 18, while non-Hispanic whites make up more than 85 percent of people aged 85 and older. Experts say the growing demographic of young Hispanics is likely to assert itself within the next decade on a national level with political and social concerns such as school financing, affordable housing and health care, and equity in the workplace for both legal and undocumented residents.
“As this population gets older, it will become a much more powerful political force,” said Audrey Singer, an immigration fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “As a voting bloc, Hispanics are not united in either their party or their positions on issues, but it remains to be seen how this very youthful population will come down on certain issues. There’s a lot out there in the future.”
A decade ago, Hispanics made up 40 percent of the nation’s increase in population. From 2000 to 2004, that number jumped to 49 percent.
Today, an estimated 41.3 million residents living in the United States legally or otherwise are Hispanic. More than half of Hispanics were born in another country, but more than 80 percent of those under 18 were born here, according to the Pew Hispanic Institute.
Younger voters may energize the Hispanic voting bloc, which has yet to assert itself on a national level. According to the Census Bureau, only 47 percent of Hispanic citizens voted in last year’s presidential election, compared with 60 percent of blacks and 67 percent of whites.
Experts say that may be because Hispanics have the largest portion of people under 18 of any other racial or ethnic group, and because the potential voting bloc has millions of illegal immigrants who are not eligible to vote.
On a local level, “Hispanics have made all the difference,” said John Logan, director of the American Communities Project at Brown University.
Hispanics are a powerful voting bloc in cities like Los Angeles, he said, where 47 percent of the population is Hispanic. Last month the city elected its first Mexican-American mayor in more than a century, Antonio Villaraigosa.
“Even if they’re born in this country, Hispanics have relatively low rate of voter registration and participation, and part of that probably is a question of really becoming part of the America mainstream in terms of language and education,” Logan said.
“But the other factor is the ability of political parties and candidates to mobilize them into politics.”
While the Census Bureau report does not reflect whether the growth among younger Hispanics is because of immigration or birth rates, demographers who track such trends said there has been a shift in recent years.
Unlike the past two decades, births now trump immigration as the largest source of population growth among Hispanics, for such reasons as the value placed on having a large family and religious beliefs that discourage the use of birth control or abortion. And, of course, because it is a younger population.
“We’ve built up sizable population of Hispanics who are of child-bearing age, both in immigrants and in native-born Hispanics,” said Jeff Passel, a demographer with the Pew Hispanic Institute, which plans to issue a report this month on Hispanic immigration.
“A lot of people in their 20s and 30s are coming here, and the ones that came 20 years ago have kids that are reaching 20 to 30 now,” he said.
Asian immigration now mirrors what Hispanic growth once was, with new immigrants coming from countries like India, China and the Philippines, Passel said. Immigration among Hispanics peaked about five years ago but continues at a steady pace, he added.
Hispanic babies born in the United States now outnumber new immigrants.
One in five children under 18 is Hispanic.