June 30, 2008
By Haya El Nasser
Births, not immigration, now account for most of the growth in the nation's Hispanic population, a distinct reversal of trends of the past 30 years.
The Hispanic baby boom is transforming the demographics of small-town America in a dramatic way. Some rural counties where the population had been shrinking and aging are growing because of Hispanic immigration and births and now must provide services for the young.
"In all of the uproar over immigration, this is getting missed," says Kenneth Johnson, demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute. "All the focus is on immigration, immigration, immigration. At some point, it's not. It's natural increase."
This natural increase — more births than deaths — is accelerating among Hispanics in the USA because they are younger than the U.S. population as a whole. Their median age is 27.4, compared with 37.9 overall, 40.8 for whites, 35.4 for Asians and 31.1 for blacks.
Because they are younger and likely to have more children, Hispanics are having an impact that far outlasts their initial entry into the country.
From 2000 to 2007, the Hispanic population grew by 10.2 million — 58.6% from natural increase. The total U.S. population grew 20.2 million, about 60% from natural increase, in that period. About 6.8 million Hispanics were born and 812,000 died, according to Johnson's research of data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
In some established immigrant gateways such as Los Angeles and Chicago, all the Hispanic growth comes from natural increase, according to Johnson's analysis.
The impact on rural America is seen in areas such as Bureau and Putnam counties, Ill., where dentist Ernesto Villalobos treats a growing Hispanic population. Since the counties' health department dental clinic in the rural part of north-central Illinois hired the Spanish-speaking Villalobos about three years ago, the number of patients has grown from 3,000 to 8,000.
ACROSS THE USA: Counties feel impact of Hispanic immigrants
The growth of Hispanic populations in parts of the country where few lived previously has intensified this decade. From 2000 to 2005, 221 counties would not have grown except for Hispanics, according to research by Johnson and Daniel Lichter at Cornell University. Their findings are reported in this month's Population and Development Review, a demographic journal published by the Population Council.
For declining counties, many in the Great Plains, the growth in young Hispanics may be the only way out of a population spiral.
"Demographically, they can't recover unless something like this happens," Johnson says. "There's no way older white populations can replace themselves."
Because more than half of births to Hispanic immigrants are to low-income women who have no high school degree, a natural population increase challenges communities, says Steve Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, which promotes limits on immigration.
"It's a huge growth in low-income population and low tax payments," he says. "If the town is not viable economically, immigration is not going to fix that problem."
Source: USA Today