Hispanics Taking Population Lead

Hispanics taking population lead
Census shows they're edging out Anglos in Dallas, across Texas

The Dallas Morning News
01:24 PM CDT on Thursday, August 9, 2007

Hispanics for the first time outnumber non-Hispanic whites in Dallas County by a slim margin, U.S. Census Bureau numbers scheduled for release today show, as the rest of the state and the nation continue one of the biggest demographic shifts in the nation's history.

Texas was officially deemed a majority-minority state two years ago. But county by county, the state is becoming increasingly Hispanic, the Census Bureau reported in its 2006 update.

Nationwide, nearly one in 10 counties is now more than 50 percent minority. In Dallas County, minorities made up nearly 64 percent of residents in 2006, with Hispanics making up 37.7 percent of the population, compared with 36.1 for non-Hispanic whites.
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“We are in the middle of the fourth decade of an ongoing demographic transformation the likes of which the country hasn't seen in 100 years,” said Rubn Rumbaut, a sociologist at the University of California at Irvine.

The sweep of change brought on largely by Texas births by Hispanic women has tipped nearly every major urban area of the state into what the Census Bureau terms “majority-minority” status. Travis County, home to the state capital in Austin, was the exception. But it, too, is poised for a transformation: Minorities represented nearly 48 percent of its population in 2006.

Challenging shift

Karl Eschbach, associate director of the Texas State Data Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said the change will bring opportunities but also challenges in social services and education.

The latest census numbers and their illustration of Hispanic growth come as the nation continues a vitriolic debate over immigration both legal and illegal and largely Hispanic.

“A lot of the debate goes forward on the basis that this demographic shift is due to immigration,” Dr. Rumbaut said. “It's 'get the illegal immigrants out.' It's 'let's make it as miserable as possible so that they just self-deport. We want those here to assimilate.' ”

But the growth reported by the Census Bureau suggests the shift is due to native-born Hispanics, Dr. Rumbaut said. By the third generation, assimilation has set in, and “Spanish is dead as a door nail.”

Fear of change fuels the fervor against immigrants and their children, he said.

“And fear just doesn't listen to facts,” Dr. Rumbaut said.

And Dr. Eschbach added: “Whether diversity is troubling to some or a good thing to others, we certainly can say that it presents a challenge for cohesion and for getting along.”

Throughout the year, the Census Bureau will be releasing 2006 data on a variety of subjects, such as income-level breakdowns and education.

Dr. Eschbach highlighted workforce needs as a particular challenge.

“Minority populations have historically been less represented, and they have lower levels of formal schooling, and that presents changes needed in educating the workforce,” the demographer said.

Bilingual students

Texas school districts have offered bilingual education for more than three decades.

But in recent years, with a surge in the number of students with limited English skills, districts have changed their strategies, offering stipends to teachers with bilingual ability, said state Rep. Rafael Ancha, who served on the Dallas school district board. He sees the growth in the Latino population as an opportunity.

“It is so much more an opportunity than it is a challenge,” said Mr. Ancha, D-Dallas.

The number of students with limited English proficiency jumped nearly 50 percent from 1996 to 2006, according to the Texas Education Agency even though adults account for much of the immigration into Texas.

Demographers and sociologists noted that the sweep of the change parallels the course of Italian immigration in the U.S.

First came the Italian immigrants, and then came the births of their citizen-children, Dr. Rumbaut said.

“The Italians were more or less like the Mexicans now,” Dr. Rumbaut said. “They had little education. They were young men and coming to work. They were Catholics.”

From 2000 to 2005, the Texas Hispanic population increased by 1.36 million. About 60 percent of that came from what demographers call a natural increase.

“Fertility is slightly higher,” explained Kenneth Johnson, a demographer from the University of New Hampshire. “There are more Hispanic women of child-bearing age, and fewer Hispanics die because the population is younger.”

Responding to those who say more illegal immigrants should be deported, Mr. Johnson said, “Now, you are talking about deporting American citizens.”

He noted that across the nation, demographic change is fueled by U.S. births by Hispanics, whose median age is lower than that of non-Hispanic whites and blacks. Hispanic is an ethnic grouping that can apply to any race or multiple races.

Commerce and culture have quickly adapted to change. In the Dallas area, nearly every business employs bilingual workers. Churches as small as the Duncanville Trinity Church of the Nazarene and as large as the Potter' House, run by the telegenic minister T.D. Jakes, offer services to Hispanics. And Mexican mariachi bands now feature Anglo, Asian and black musicians.

Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, said commerce and culture are quick to embrace change, but the impact on the ballot box may take a little longer, and that can affect education funding, he said.

“In this kind of demographic change, it takes a long time for the politics to catch up with the demography,” Mr. Suro said. “That creates some real challenges.”

“You end up with this imbalance,” he added. “And it is a question of who has claims on public funds, especially where education is concerned.”