Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Support NHPR with your tax-deductible year-end gift today!

Census Data Confirms: Hispanics Outnumber Whites In California


Let's turn now to California where newly released data from the Census Bureau shows Latinos now outnumber whites. California is not the first state where this has happened. It's already the case in New Mexico, but, of course, the numbers are so much bigger in California. Anglos, as non-Hispanic whites are known here, now number 14.9 million, and Latinos have edged them out with a population of 15 million. To talk more about this milestone, we brought into our studios Roberto Suro of the University of Southern California. Thank you so much for joining us.

ROBERTO SURO: It's a pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Now, you've written several books on immigration and the Latino experience in America. Why this growth?

SURO: Well, the growth here was fed first by immigration, primarily in the '80s and '90s and the first part of the 2000s, up until the Great Recession. But then starting in the early 2000s, natural increase - just the number of births over deaths - became the primary way that the Hispanic population was growing. And that's been true here for quite some time. Immigration brings in young adults. Young adults are at the peak of their fertility, and the white population has been aging. So baby boomers produced a lot of babies in the 1980s, bringing us the millennial generation, but since the 1990s, boomers have mostly been beyond childbearing.


And one has to say people are dying.

SURO: Right.

MONTAGNE: That demographic.

SURO: So that's the other side of it. The white population is actually - in terms of natural increase in the United States, it's shrinking.

MONTAGNE: Obviously, this is a change that has been happening somewhat gradually. So I'm curious - if someone visited or lived in California, say, 25 years ago, what would they notice that was different?

SURO: Let's talk about the coastal cities - the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. You had then areas that were very Latino against a backdrop of a primarily Anglo world. Today, what you have is islands that are Anglo in a primarily multicultural world. So it's that mix that characterizes coastal California now.

MONTAGNE: Well, in terms of Latinos here in California, how might this affect politics and voting?

SURO: When your population grows through natural increase, there's an 18-year lag time between adding a person and adding a voter, so Hispanic demographic growth does not equate to Latino political growth. Right now, because of the earlier waves of immigration and the earlier fertility, there are lots of Latino young people who are coming online every year - native-born citizens who are turning 18 and moving into the electorate. And so we're starting to see now, after a long delay, the effects, but it's going to be a while.

MONTAGNE: Does it look like Latinos will become a majority in this state at some point?

SURO: Yeah. I mean, given present trends, there is a very likely scenario that sees Latinos become a majority, even with increasing Asian immigration. And that's simply because of the age distribution currently. In California, there are 4.8 million Latinos under 18. There are 2.4 million whites under the age of 18, so there are twice as many Latino young people as there are white young people. That is enormous demographic power because that means 10 years from now, there will be twice as many Latinos of childbearing age as there are whites of childbearing age, I mean, if these trends continue. So these things have multiplier effects. They have echoes that continue down for generations. And when you frontload your population this forcefully with this many young people of one group, this will have an effect for the next 50 years.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

SURO: Great to be with you.

MONTAGNE: Roberto Suro is director of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.