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April 2001, Volume 8, Number 4

Census: Hispanics Outnumber Blacks

The 2000 Census found that the number of Hispanics grew faster than expected in the 1990s, so that about 35 million residents identified themselves as Hispanic, and 35 million residents identified themselves as Black. Hispanics have Spanish-speaking ancestry but may belong to any race; about 66 percent of US Hispanics are of Mexican descent. Hispanics were not expected to surpass Blacks until 2005; the fact that it happened in 2000 has been termed "the biggest surprise yet to emerge from the 2000 census."

In 2000, there were 211 million white residents, 35 million Hispanics, 35 million Blacks, and 10 million Asians. In 1990, these numbers, respectively, were 200 million; 22 million; 30 million; and seven million.

The higher-than-expected Hispanic count means that there may be far more unauthorized foreigners in the US than previously thought. The INS's last estimates in 2000 suggested that there were 5.1 million unauthorized foreigners in the US in January 1997, and their number was growing by about 155,000 a year. The Census suggests that there may have been nine to 11 million unauthorized foreigners in the US in 2000, up sharply from an estimated three million in 1990.

John F. Long, chief of the Census bureau's population division, said that "Immigration -- unmeasured immigration -- is the thing we are looking at. The biggest candidate is . . . undocumented immigrants."

There were two perspectives on the possibility of an additional five to six million unauthorized foreigners. One perspective emphasized that higher-than-expected illegal immigration could explain the very rapid growth in the US labor force and school enrollments in some areas in the 1990s. A comparison of employer-reported jobs data and household-reported worker data showed that employers accounted for 23 million additional jobs between 1992 and 2000, while the household survey found only 17 million additional workers. Some analysts assume that the "missing" six million workers are unauthorized; others say they may be foreign workers and students with temporary work visas, or more US workers holding two or three jobs.

Another view is exemplified by Everett M. Ehrlich, undersecretary for economic affairs at the Commerce Department in President Clinton's first term, who said "It looks like five million illegal immigrants were here that we didn't know about--maybe more--and it wasn't the end of the world."

According to one expert, Census estimates of the Hispanic population in the 1990s "point to a significant underestimation of undocumented immigration;" the fastest growth in the Hispanic population was in the 30 to 49 age group. The last official Census estimates, in November 2000, estimated that Latinos were 11.8 percent of the estimated U.S. population of 275 million, compared with 12.8 percent for blacks.

Representative Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said: "Currently, we do not have representation in Congress proportionate to the population of the country, and we need to change this." Hispanics hold 21 seats in the US House of Representatives, compared with 39 seats held by Blacks. The Hispanic population rose 61 percent in the 1990s, from 22.4 million in 1990 to 35.3 million in 2000; the Black population rose from 30 to 34.7 million.

The Census found 281 million US residents on April 1, 2000. An estimate based on sampling predicted 285 million residents, and an estimate based on vital statistics was 275 million. The Census Bureau recommended that the 2000 Census not be adjusted for the estimated undercount of three to four million-- 1.1 percent of US residents. Census data are used to apportion districts for elections and to distribute about $185 billion a year in federal aid to state and local governments. Generally, Democrats want adjusted numbers to be used for redistricting and aid, since they assume that residents not counted are likely to vote Democratic and need aid, while Republicans do not want to use adjusted Census data.

Race and Ethnicity. The Census asks individuals to identify their race and ethnicity. In 1990, respondents could choose from only five racial categories; in 2000, from 63. Thus, direct comparisons between the 1990 and 2000 data are not possible.

The five categories in 1990, were: "white," "black," "American Indian, Eskimo or Aleutian," "Asian or Pacific Islander" and "some other race." There were six major racial categories on the 2000 census, and respondents were permitted to choose more than one category. This generated 63 potential race options: six for single races, 15 possible combinations of two, 20 combinations of three, 15 of four, six combinations of five, and one grand mix of all six main categories: "White-Black-Asian-American Indian or Alaska Native-Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander-Some Other Race."

About seven million residents, two percent of the 281 million Americans, said they belonged to more than one race. The four most common interracial categories were white and black, white and Asian, white and American Indian/Alaska native, and white and "some other race," a box that census officials said was checked mainly by Latinos. Five percent of blacks, six percent of Hispanics, 14 percent of Asians and 2.5 percent of whites identified themselves as multiracial.

Any of these 63 categories can then be divided into two ethnic groups by a separate question that asked whether the respondent was Hispanic or non-Hispanic (people of Hispanic origin may be of any race), yielding a total of 126 racial and ethnic categories. The purpose of adding the additional categories was to reflect the diversity brought about by immigration and interracial marriage. However, for the purposes of civil rights enforcement and monitoring, a person who checks "White" plus another race box is to be coded in the minority category.

Race and ethnicity data figure prominently in arguments over redistricting, redrawing the boundaries of election districts so that each has an approximately equal number of residents. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ordered that voting districts cannot be drawn in a way that reduces the chance for minorities to have their preferred candidates elected.

In 1990, challenges to redistricting were filed in 41 states. In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Shaw v. Reno that race can not be the predominant justification for redrawing the boundaries of a voting district- the residents of a district are to have a "community of interest," defined to include everything from homeownership patterns to race and ethnicity, and voting districts must be compact and contiguous.

Federal circuit courts ruled in several cases that the interests of non-US citizens should not be considered in establishing voting districts because they cannot vote. For example, in 1998 the federal appeals court for the Seventh Circuit found that only seven alderman wards in Chicago should have a Hispanic majority -- not the nine sought by Maldef in a suit-because 40 percent of Chicago's Latinos were not citizens.

This is leading to enforcement and service dilemmas. For example, the Indian Health Service provides health services to Native Americans-its target population are the 2.6 million people who identified themselves exclusively as American Indians or the 4.1 million people who said they were at least part Native American. Hugh B. Price, president of the National Urban League, said that over time racial and ethnic "categories lose their salience as a more complex picture emerges."

Many Hispanics and persons from the Middle East marked "Other" for their race in pre-census trials. The census will likely revise the race categories before 2010. The original racial categories considered by the census in the 19th century -- Black, White and American Indian -- were based on skin color. Subsequent additions focused on nationality like "Chinese" and "Filipino." "Hispanic," now regarded as an ethnicity on the census form, is based neither on skin color nor nationality, but on language.

The long-form questionnaire that goes to one-sixth of households has 604 different ancestry categories, up from 467 in 1980. There are many disputes about how to classify responses. For example, Assyrian-Americans, who trace their roots to a biblical-era empire covering much of what is now Iraq, have taken umbrage that they are to be grouped with the Chaldeans, who the Assyrians say are a religious subgroup. The Census will report persons with Assyrian and Chaldean roots together-there were 51,765 in 1990.

Hispanics. The Census found 35 million Hispanics in April 2000, including 35 percent under age 35 (about 24 percent of non-Hispanics are under 35). However, the major Census sample survey, the monthly Current Population Survey, estimated that there were 33 million Hispanic US residents in March 2000-these sample data, released in March 2001 just before Census data-- are the source of data on the characteristics of Hispanic residents. For more information: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hispanic.html).

A high percentage of Hispanics have relatively little education: 57 percent of Hispanics were high school graduates compared with 88 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

About 28 percent of non-Hispanic Whites age 25 and over had a BA degree or more in 2000, compared to 11 percent of Hispanics. The 2000 CPS estimated that 12.8 million Hispanics were foreign-born, and that 25 percent of them had become naturalized US citizens by 2000. Among foreign-born Hispanics, 43 percent entered the United States in the 1990s, while 27 percent entered before 1980.

Hispanics generally are younger than non-Hispanic whites- 36 percent of Hispanics were under 18 years old and only five percent were 65 or older; for non-Hispanic Whites, the corresponding proportions were 24 percent and 14 percent. About 31 percent of Hispanic family households had five or more persons, compared with 12 percent of family households with non-Hispanic White householders.

States. The Census began to release population data for states in March 2001, and they showed that the Hispanics population- especially Mexican-born Hispanics-- are spreading from the southwest to the rest of the US. http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/date.html)

New York City experienced a six percent growth rate between 1990 and 2000, resulting in a population over eight million. The growth in New York City accounted for two-thirds of state's population gain. New York state grew at a slower rate of four percent. The state expects to lose two of its 31 seats in the US House of Representatives. The Hispanic population in New York state grew by more than 25 percent during the 1990s.

Census figures show that after 50 years of population decline, Chicago grew four percent over the past decade, the city now has 2.9 million people. The Hispanic population grew from a fifth of the population to more than a quarter and the number of Asians increased 20 percent.

The state of Delaware posted a 136 percent increase in the number of Hispanics in the state. In 1990, there were 15,820 Hispanics; in 2000, there were 37,277.

Nevada was the fastest growing US state, reaching two million people, a 66 percent increase since 1990, including an 86 percent increase in Clark county, were Las Vegas is located. The number of Latinos tripled to about 375,000, reflecting the migration of Hispanics to fill jobs in home construction and in hotels and casinos in Las Vegas. The population of Las Vegas almost doubled in the 1990s to just under 500,000; Reno has almost 200,000 residents.

The Census found that Hispanics in three cities-Miami, Los Angeles and San Antonio-have or soon will have Hispanic majority populations. The relative success of Hispanics in Miami was attributed in part to significant federal investment-- the Cuban Refugee Program provided more than $1.2 billion of direct financial assistance to recently arrived immigrants, the equivalent, in 2000 dollars, of $63,000 for each household. At one point, 74 percent of all Cuban immigrants received governmental assistance, even though many Cubans were professionals. Unlike Mexicans in San Antonio and Los Angeles, Cubans did not return or send remittances to their country of origin.


D'Vera Cohn, "Experts Analyzing New Census Figures Say 6 Million May Instead Be 9 Million," Washington Post, March 18, 2001. Susan Sachs, "City Population Tops 8 Million in Census Count for First Time," New York Times, March 16, 2001. Christopher Thorne, "Hispanic population making significant gains in Delaware," Associated Press, March 15, 2001. Eduardo Porter, "Growing minority groups will likely face lawsuits over redistricting," Wall Street Journal, March 14, 2001. Laurent Belsie, "Ethnic diversity grows, but not integration," Christian Science Monitor, March 14, 2001. Eric Schmitt, "Multiracial Identification Might Affect Programs," New York Times, March 14, 2001. Aaron Zitner, "Immigrant Tally Doubles in Census," Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2001. Eric Schmitt, "Census Figures Show Hispanics Pulling Even With Blacks," New York Times, March 8, 2001.