Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Latinos Account for Half of U.S. Population Growth Since 2000

I. Overview

Accompanying this report, the Pew Hispanic Center is releasing a series of interactive maps that illustrate the size and spread of Hispanic population growth since 1980.

Since the turn of the century, Hispanics have accounted for more than half (50.5%) of the overall population growth in the United States—a significant new demographic milestone for the nation’s largest minority group. From April 1, 2000, to July 1, 2007, the Hispanic population increased by 10.2 million to 45.5 million, a growth of 29%. During this same period, the much larger non-Hispanic population of the U.S. grew by 10 million, a growth of just 4%. As of mid-2007, Hispanics made up 15.1% of the total U.S. population but accounted for a majority of the nation’s total population increase since 2000. During the 1990s, the Hispanic population also expanded rapidly, but over the course of that decade its growth accounted for less than 40% of the nation’s total population increase.

In a reversal of past trends, Latino population growth in the new century has been more a product of the natural increase (births minus deaths) of the existing population than it has been of new international migration. Of the 10.2 million increase in the Hispanic population since 2000, about 60% of the increase (or 6 million) is due to natural increase and 40% is due to net international migration, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. By contrast, more of the Hispanic population increase in the U.S. during the 1990s was the result of immigration (56%) rather than births over deaths of existing residents (44%), according to Pew Hispanic Center estimates.1

There are several other noteworthy trends in Latino growth and settlement patterns. Until two decades ago, the nation’s Hispanic population had been heavily concentrated in long-established areas of Hispanic settlement. In 1990, for example, almost three-quarters of the Hispanic population resided in just 65 of the nation’s 3,141 counties. Beginning in the 1990s, the Hispanic population began to disperse across the U.S.—most notably, establishing significant population centers in many counties in the South and Midwest that historically had very few Hispanics residents.

This dispersal has continued in the new century. However, since 2000 the geographic patterns of Hispanic dispersal have differed somewhat from the patterns of the 1990s, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of the most recent U.S. Census Bureau county population counts.

The most notable difference is that Hispanic dispersion in this new century has been tilted more toward counties in the West and the Northeast than it had been the 1990s; correspondingly, it has also been slightly less tilted toward counties in the South2 and Midwest. Despite this new tilt, in the current decade the South accounts for a greater share of overall Latino population growth than any other region. And together, the South and West still account for more than 80% of the Hispanic population growth in this decade, while the Northeast and Midwest account for just under 20%. This ratio was very similar in the 1990s.

Another subtle difference in Hispanic settlement patterns in this decade compared with those of the 1990s has to do with an ever-growing concentration of Hispanic population growth in metropolitan areas. Looking just at counties that have had above-average Latino population growth since 2000, fully 94% are part of what the Census Bureau defines as a metropolitan area. In the 1990s, so-called metropolitan counties also loomed large in Latino population growth, but their share of growth among fast-growing Latino counties was a bit smaller—89%.

It should be noted that under the Census Bureau’s classification system, “metropolitan county” does not necessarily refer to a large city. Indeed, many of the “metropolitan counties” that have experienced the fastest rate of growth in their Hispanic population in this decade are either suburbs (typically, outer suburbs) or small or mid-sized cities. For example, the fastest-growing Hispanic county in the country in the current decade—Frederick County, Virginia, whose Hispanic population has more than quadrupled since 2000—is in a small-city metropolitan area adjacent to Washington, D.C.

A handful of big cities have also played a sizable role in Latino population growth in this decade. But because these cities already had a large base of Hispanic residents at the start of the decade, the growth of their Latino population since then—while sizable in number—has been less dramatic in percentage terms. So, for example, the Latino population grew by more than 400,000 from 2000 to 2007 in just three counties: Los Angeles, Maricopa (Phoenix) and Harris (Houston). But when their Hispanic growth is measured as a rate rather than as an absolute number, none of those counties ranks in the top 400 of the nation’s fastest-growing Latino counties in the current decade.

For the purposes of this report, the Pew Hispanic Center has identified 676 fast-growing Hispanic counties among the nation’s total of 3,141 counties. These counties all share two characteristics: a 2007 Latino population of at least 1,000; and an above-average Hispanic growth of at least 41% from 2000 to 2007.

More than three-quarters (528) of these 676 fast-growing Hispanic counties also experienced fast Hispanic growth during the 1990s, exemplifying the continuity in Latino settlement patterns since 1990. At the same time, however, the addition of 148 counties experiencing rapid growth, as well as the cooling off of Hispanic population growth in some formerly rapidly growing counties, reflects the changes in the regional and metropolitan patterns in Latino growth in the new century.

For example, some counties in Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts in the Northeast and in Montana, New Mexico and California in the West that have experienced fast Hispanic population growth in the new century were not fast-growers in the 1990s. In the South, too, Hispanics have dispersed to some new settlement areas in this decade—perhaps most notably to several counties in Louisiana, whose Hispanic populations have sharply increased in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Also, while the strong Hispanic growth that some parts of the Midwest experienced in the 1990s has continued into the new century, the formerly fast rates of Hispanic growth in other areas of that region—especially in economically hard-hit counties in western Michigan and western Minnesota—have fallen below average in the new century.

These 676 fast-growing Hispanic counties have also experienced significant growth in their non-Hispanic populations. In the aggregate, the non-Hispanic population of these 676 counties has increased by 9.9 million since 2000, accounting for virtually all of the nation’s 10 million increase in non-Hispanics during this decade. In short, growth begets growth, irrespective of ethnicity. The counties to which Latinos are dispersing in the new century are also attracting non-Latinos.

Hispanics residing in these fast-growing Hispanic counties have somewhat different demographic characteristics than their Hispanic counterparts in older, established, but more slow-growing Hispanic counties. The most marked difference is in the adult gender balance. The slow-growing Hispanic counties have slightly more adult male Latinos than adult female Latinos, 104 men for every 100 women. In contrast, in the fast-growing Hispanic counties there are 120 adult men for every 100 adult women. Also, immigrants make up a greater share of the Hispanic population in the fast-growing counties (42%) than they do in older, established Hispanic counties (39%). Similarly, a modestly higher share of Hispanics are not U.S. citizens in the fast-growing counties than in slow-growing Hispanic counties.

However, in some respects Hispanics in the fast-growing areas resemble Hispanics in the slow-growing counties. The English language abilities and levels of high school completion of Latinos are nearly the same in both kinds of counties; so, too, is the poverty rate among Latinos.

Among the report’s other key findings:

  • Hispanic population growth in the new century has been widespread. The Hispanic population has grown in almost 3,000 of the nation’s 3,141 counties.
  • At the same time, Hispanic population growth in the new century has been fairly concentrated. Hispanic population growth in just 178 counties accounts for 79% of the nation’s entire 10.2 million Hispanic population increase.
  • In spite of the geographic dispersal of Hispanics, the Hispanic population continues to be much more geographically concentrated than the non-Hispanic population. In 2007, the 100 largest Hispanic counties were home to 73% of the Latino population. By contrast, the 100 largest non-Hispanic counties were home to just 39% of the nation’s non-Hispanics.
  • By this measure, Hispanics are more geographically concentrated than the nation’s black population. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) of the non-Hispanic black population live in the nation’s 100 largest non-Hispanic black counties.

About this Report

Most of this report’s analyses are based on the 2007 county population estimates produced by the U.S. Census Bureau, supplemented by 1990 and 2000 county population counts from the Decennial Censuses. Hispanic population counts are available for all of the nation’s 3,141 counties. Virtually all of the growth (98%) in the Hispanic population in both the 1990s and the new century occurred in 1,362 counties, that is, counties that have at least 1,000 Hispanic residents in 2007. The report focuses on the patterns of Hispanic population growth in these 1,362 counties and the impact of Hispanic population growth on total county population growth in this subset of counties. Very little of the nation’s non-Hispanic population growth since 2000 is omitted because these 1,362 counties account for 98% of the increase in the nation’s non-Hispanic population as well.

A detailed statistical appendix on the 1990, 2000 and 2007 Hispanic population and total population counts is available. Counts are provided for all 3,141 counties. Absolute population increases as well as growth rates (in percent) are also provided.

Public use micro sample data from the Census Bureau’s 2007 American Community Survey, as well the 1990 and 2000 Decennial Censuses, are also used to examine the characteristics of Hispanics and non-Hispanics in the new settlement areas versus traditional Hispanic areas. This pioneering use of American Community Survey data provides a detailed snapshot of the broad characteristics of Latinos in the nation’s fast-growing Hispanic counties.

A Note on Terminology

The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are used interchangeably in this report, as are the terms “foreign born” and “immigrant.”

Recommended Citation

Richard Fry. Latino Settlement in the New Century. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center, October 2008.

  1. For additional information on past and future trends in the growth of the Hispanic population and total population, see Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn, U.S. Population Projections: 2005 – 2050, February 2008.
  2. In the regional analysis used throughout this report, following Census Bureau definitions, Texas (which is second only to California in its total number of Hispanic residents) is classified as a Southern state.
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