New 2011 census estimates due to be released indicate that 'an important landmark' has been reached in U.S. demographic evolution as longtime immigration growth ebbs, an expert says.
WASHINGTON — For the first time, racial and ethnic minorities make up more than half the children born in the U.S., capping decades of heady immigration growth that is slowing.
New 2011 census estimates to be released Thursday highlight sweeping changes in the nation's racial makeup and the prolonged effect of a weak economy, which is resulting in fewer Latinos entering the U.S.
"This is an important landmark," said Roderick Harrison, a former chief of racial statistics at the Census Bureau who is now a sociologist at Howard University in Washington. "This generation is growing up much more accustomed to diversity than its elders."
The report comes as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the legality of Arizona's strict immigration law, with many states weighing similar get-tough measures.
"We remain in a dangerous period where those appealing to anti-immigration elements are fueling a divisiveness and hostility that might take decades to overcome," Harrison said.
As a whole, the nation's minority population continues to rise, after a higher-than-expected Hispanic count in the 2010 census. Minorities increased 1.9% to 114.1 million, or 36.6% of the total U.S. population, lifted by prior waves of immigration that brought in young families and boosted the number of Latinas in their prime child-bearing years.
But a recent slowdown in the growth of the Latino and Asian populations is shifting notions on when the tipping point in U.S. diversity will come — the time when non-Latino whites become a minority. Although 2010 census results suggested a crossover as early as 2040, demographers now believe it may be pushed back several years when new projections are released in December.
The annual growth rates for Latinos and Asians fell sharply last year to just over 2%, roughly half the rates in 2000 and the lowest in more than a decade. The growth rate for black Americans stayed flat at 1%.
Minorities made up roughly 2.02 million, or 50.4%, of U.S. births in the 12-month period ending July 2011. That compares with 37% in 1990.
According to the latest data, the percentage growth of Latinos slowed from 4.2% in 2001 to 2.5% last year. Their population growth would have been even lower if it weren't for their relatively high fertility rates — seven births for every death. The median age of U.S. Latinos is 27.6 years.
The census report also found that four states — Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas — as well as the District of Columbia have minority populations exceeding 50%.
The census estimates used local records of births and deaths, tax records of people moving within the U.S., and census statistics on immigrants. The figures for "white" refer to those whites who are not of Latino ethnicity.