Latino Population Catching Up With Whites, But Politics Lag Behind

Last week, the office of California Gov. Jerry Brown released a section of the state's budget report, revealing that by July, California’s Latino population will make up about 39%, which is the same as the state’s non-Hispanic white population. By the end of December, Latinos will outnumber non-Hispanic whites in California.

This shift was predicted in California during the late 40s, shortly after World War II, when the state's health department was convinced that one region of the state would absorb most of the area’s surging population. The politics of this projected change grew so intense that state officials decided to create a central repository for population projections, in the state's finance department.

According to Steve Murdock, a demographer and the former head of the U.S. Census Bureau, this population projection holds meaning not just for California but for the entire nation.  

“This is part of a national pattern,” Murdock, who's now a sociologist at Rice University in Texas, told the Huffington Post. “You are seeing it in the North and South, in the East and in the West. The only difference will be when this becomes the new reality in each state.”

In New Mexico, where Latinos reached parity with non-Hispanic whites in the last decade, and Texas, Latinos are expected to become each state’s majority population by 2020. Most demographers anticipate that the United States will become a minority-majority nation no later than 2050, according to Murdock.

The projected population shift in California marks the most significant in U.S. history since Irish, Italian, German and other Southern and Eastern European immigrants began to outnumber U.S. residents of English origin in the late 1890s and early 1900s, then have children, Murdock said. As in the past, when in 1920,  the country passed its first immigration control laws designed to reduce the number of immigrants coming from Southern and Eastern European countries, this shift doesn't come without politics.

State with rapidly growing Latino populations, including Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas, have already seen a number of anti-immigrant laws which go as far as penalizing school districts that fail to count the number of children of undocumented immigrants attending classes.

“Education has been the coin of the realm, if you will, in America,” Murdock said. “Meaning historically, it is the way that you progress [economically], how groups come along. I think the extent to which we invest in the education of Latinos and our newest immigrant populations become fully engaged in our economy will depend a great deal on how we provide schools and other services that these children need. That’s what will determine if the country remains competitive or not.”

Only time will tell how much states with growing Latino populations invest in the education of their future, but for now, it's not looking positive. According to Julian Vasquez Heilig, an assistant professor of education policy and planning at the University of Texas, the country's in trouble. In 2011, state officials slashed $5.4 billion out of Texas’ K-12 education budget. That same year, Latino students became the majority population in the state’s public schools, Vasquez Heilig said. Across the country today, about 25 percent of all kindergarten students are Latino.

Many states across the country slashed education funding. And it's no secret black and Latino children from low-income families attend the worst schools in the country with the least experienced and qualified teachers.

It's up to the Latino and minority voters who helped put President Obama back in office to push federal and state officials to change this, believes Stella Rouse, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland in College Park. Rouse said access to quality education and health care rank among the top two priorities identified by Latinos across the country.

“We reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” Obama said in his inauguration speech Monday.

We can only hope this sentiment holds true in the future.