Critical Mass: Latino Youth in California & New Mexico Outnumber Peers

For the first time in national history, Latino youth are the majority among their peers in California and New Mexico, reports.  The finding is based on census data released earlier this year.  White children are now minorities in Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Maryland and Hawaii according to a data analysis by William Frey, an internationally recognized demographer with the Brookings Institution (a nonprofit public policy organization that conducts independent research). 

The number of Hispanic and Asian children increased by 5.5 million from 2000 to 2010.  Latino children make up the bulk of the growth.  In his report titled “America’s Diverse Future,” Frey wrote: “Were it not for Hispanics, the nation’s child population would have declined.”  The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that America’s young people will become “minority white” by 2023.

The growth of the Latino youth population in both California and New Mexico hasn’t caused the stir that might be expected—it actually began in the mid-1960s and has leveled off in recent years.  Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demographer at the University of Southern California said immigration is “not the rocket ship it used to be” in California.

In Arizona and South Carolina, the rapid growth of the Hispanic population isn’t received as well.  According to CNN, the change is increasing tensions in these communities.  Census data shows that South Carolina’s Hispanic population increased 148 percent between 2000 and 2010 – the fastest rate of any other state. 

The bad news is that Latino youth are currently behind their peers in terms of high school graduation rates and college acceptance.  According to 2009 data analyzed by the Pew Hispanic Center, more than 17 percent of Hispanic people ages 16 to 24 are high-school dropouts in comparison to 6 percent of white, 9 percent of blacks, and 4 percent of Asians.  “Many of them [Latino youth] value a college education and their parents put an emphasis on college education and getting more schooling but in some respects they’re unable to, based on resources,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, of the Pew Hispanic Center.

These changes mean the national pendulum is swinging toward an era of more diversity – reminiscent of the “melting pot” the United States was frequently described as.  “We’re now getting back into our roots in a way,” noted Frey.