March 16, 2001

Experts Stunned as Hispanics Near 40 Million

Population Surpasses That of Blacks Following 60% Growth in Last Decade

By Cynthia L. Orosco

Census 2000 figures released March 6 reveal the U.S. Latino population grew 60% over the last decade — up from 22.4 million in 1990 to 35.3 million last year. Latinos now comprise 12.6% -- excluding Puerto Rico-- of the U.S. mainland population. The new figures revealed there are nearly 3 million more Latinos than the U.S. Census Bureau had predicted last year.

In the decade, population on the island of Puerto Rico grew from 3.5 million to 3.9 million, which brings the total number of U.S. Latinos to 39.2 million.

The raw, unadjusted numbers approved for release by Commerce Secretary Don Evans pegged the African-American population at 36.4 million.

"The growth of the Hispanic population really surprised just about everyone," Jorge del Pinal, division chief of the Census Bureau's Ethnic and Hispanic Branch, told Weekly Report.

The Current Population Report for March 2000, with projections based on 1990 census data, was also released March 6. It found Mexicans made up about two-thirds of the Latino population, followed by Central and South Americans and Puerto Ricans.

Other characteristics it reported:

Nearly one in five Latinos lived in poverty, nearly double the percentage of their non-Hispanic white counterparts. Latino children under 18 were three times as likely to live in poverty as non-Hispanic white children, constituting 29.0% of all poor children in the United States.

Breakdown of the population by national origin are expected this summer, del Pinal said, and additional characteristics such as education, income and household data will follow during the next year. The overall population numbers are being released now in accordance with federal law that requires all states receive the information by April 1 for redistricting purposes.

The raw census figures being released this week have been a point of debate between Democrats, social and civic rights groups and the Bush administration. The groups argue adjusted figures would help account for about 3.4 million individuals —mostly people of color— who were under-counted. The bureau estimated about 2.85% —or 1 million— Latinos were missed.

Evans approved use of the raw data after the bureau's Executive Steering Committee for Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation Policy could not conclude March 2 that "data for legislative redistricting... would be improved through sampling."

However, Evans has not ruled out releasing adjusted figures for use in distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds.

(Reprinted from Hispanic Link Weekly Report, Vol. 19, No. 11, March 12, 2001).

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