Most experts predicted before the 2010 census started that the decennial survey would reveal an increase in the Hispanic population of the United States. The forecasts proved accurate. Census Bureau figures released recently show that Hispanics accounted for more than half of the nation’s growth in the last decade, and that the group is now the nation’s second largest group with more than 50 million people. The demographic change is significant. It undoubtedly will bring considerable social, economic and political change to the country.
The 2010 census put the total U.S. population at 308.7 million. Of that number, 63.7 percent (196.8 million) were white; 16.3 percent (50.5 million) were Hispanic; 12.2 percent (37.7 million) were black and 4.7 percent (14.5 million) were Asian. The remainder of those counted indicated they belonged to other groups on their census forms.
The population growth of Hispanics, who can be of any race, was a bit larger than expected, according to census officials. It grew by about 43 percent from 2000 to 2010 and it accounted for 56 percent of the nation’s total growth in the same time period. (Census officials have not said what role illegal immigration has played in Hispanic population growth, saying that they are still studying the reasons for the growth). One aspect of the growth, however, is certain. In past years, Hispanic population and growth were concentrated in a handful of states. That is no longer true.
In nine states, including Tennessee, that population more than doubled in the last decade. In six others, total population would have declined if not for increases in the number of Hispanics residing there. The shifts in population are measured in numbers, but the significance of those changes is likely to become most visible in the political arena. Those changes will become evident pretty quickly.
By law, states must redraw political districts based on population and racial makeup following the release of a census. That’s always proved to be a contentious project because political parties work zealously to protect their turf and to retain control of their state’s electoral votes. The increasing presence and political power of Hispanics will change long-standing political equations in many states.
Indeed, states like Florida and Texas, which will pick up seats in the U.S. House for the 2012 election, will do so only because of the growth of the Hispanic population within their borders. Those states, of late, have been soundly Republican in philosophy and vote. The growth of the Hispanic population, which tends to vote Democratic and which is beginning to flex its collective political muscle, could mean that seats once regarded as a sure thing for the GOP might not be so secure. Given that, the state’s redistricting skirmishes are likely to be especially lively in coming months.
The 2010 census confirms what many people already knew to be fact. The growing presence of Hispanics here and elsewhere is changing the makeup of the work force, expanding cultural horizons and prompting often hidebound civic, political and educational institutions to rethink the way they operate. Those uncomfortable with such change will have to adapt. Census officials say that minorities are expected to become the majority of the U.S. population by 2050.