Tag: U.S. Census

More on That White Thing

Recently, I wrote about the Pew Research Center’s finding that, over the last decade, 2.5 million Latinos changed their racial classification to white. Now this development has caused consternation, rejoicing, or befuddlement, depending upon your perspective.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the whole concept of race “is a construct. Its meaning throughout history has had no basis in biological reality but rather in social domination and political contention.”

As we all know, racial classifications have no anthropological basis. So the people who say there is only one race (the human race) are correct, strictly speaking.

one finger

However, for something so arbitrary and minor, race sure causes a lot of controversy. Exacerbating this issue is the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau has always perplexed people with its separation of race and ethnicity, particularly when it comes to Hispanics.

As such, many commentators have argued that a lot of those 2.5 Latinos who changed their race “may not consider themselves white. Many or even most might identify their race as ‘Hispanic’ if it were an explicit option.”

Indeed, we have to consider that “the confusion on the U.S. Census has little to do with evolving ideas about race among Latinos and a lot to do with the limited options available to Latinos.” As such, this is just “more evidence of Americans’ puzzlement about how the census asks separately about race and ethnicity.”

In essence, when it comes to the census, “Hispanics can be at once a race and not a race.”

It’s all very metaphysical, and possibly even a cool discussion if you’re high enough. But it also might say something very real about self-identity and cultural legacies.

You see, there is some debate over whether modern-day Hispanics are the sociological decedents of those huddled masses yearning to be free back in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Keep in mind that when Ellis Island was an immigration hotspot, “all sorts of immigrants, including Irish, Jews, and Italians, were once considered irredeemably alien, even racially inferior to ‘white’ Americans.”

This sounds intensely similar to how Latinos are described today in many sections of the country. And yet, the longer a Latino family has been in America, the more likely its members are “to check the ‘white’ box.”

Yes, those Latinos who identify as white are more likely “to be second- and third-generation Hispanics than foreign-born and noncitizen Hispanics.”

This lines up with the experience of earlier immigrants. After all, when it comes to the Irish, Italians, and Jews, their fifth-generation descendants don’t hesitate “over how to fill out the census. They check ‘white’ — because that is how the rest of America now sees them.”

Again, that may say something very uplifting or truly disturbing about the direction in which Latino culture is headed. Or maybe it’s both — or neither.

See how tricky this gets?

But to end on an optimistic note, note that the recent census data has also supplied another “strong sign that fears of a unique ‘Hispanic challenge,’ where Hispanics immigrants might remain as a permanent Spanish-speaking underclass, are overblown.”

In fact, there is mounting evidence that “Hispanics are succeeding in American society at a pace similar to that of prior waves of European immigrants.”

And that will continue to be true — whether Latinos are white or not.

 


Just Hanging on the Hacienda

As we all know, Hispanic culture has contributed much to the United States. A quick glance at the artistic, political, and social makeup of the nation confirms that Latinos are prime instigators when it comes to plotting the direction of the country.

Many of our new values have their roots in Latin America. However, there is one concept from the old world that should not be welcome here. Ironically, it is U.S. powerbrokers — people unlikely to be Latino — who are most clamoring for it to gain a foothold in this country.

I’m talking about the encomienda system, which hasn’t formally existed for hundreds of years, but which has never really gone away. Briefly, the encomienda system was set up by the Spanish Conquistadors, who divided Latin America among themselves. An encomienda was a land grant that gave a Spaniard property rights over Indian labor. Basically, the conquistador got a hacienda and indentured servants to make him rich.

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No Man’s Land

I’m sure you’ve heard the news that Hispanics now make up a record percentage of the American population. The U.S. Census says that one out of every six residents is Latino. Furthermore, in a “surprising show of growth, Hispanics accounted for more than half of the U.S. population increase over the last decade.”

Yes, Latinos are the chief reason that America has avoided a population decline.

However, not everyone is grateful, or particularly thrilled, about this fact. In fact, quite a few Americans are angry, anxious, or just plain freaked out over the ascendency of Hispanics in the United States.

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You Can Hear the Death Rattle

I’ve written before about the fact that the U.S. population is growing at its lowest rate since the Great Depression. But what does this statistic really tell us?

Well, among other things, it means that for the first time in American history, large swaths of the country are essentially emptying out. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “a near-record number of U.S. counties are experiencing more deaths than births in their communities, a phenomenon demographers call natural decrease.”

Of course, there’s a more common term for it: ghost town.

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The Latino Side of Town

I grew up in a state that was overwhelming white, in a city that was somewhat white, in a neighborhood that was barely white. The de facto segregation in my hometown meant that whole sections of the city could easily be identified as the barrio or the black neighborhood or the fledgling Asian district. It was geographically convenient to pinpoint where the white people weren’t, because they were so plentiful everywhere else.

But in the United States of 2011, it’s not so simple. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “America’s neighborhoods became more integrated last year than during any time in at least a century.” This of course means we’ve achieved the mythical color-blind society where racism and ethnic conflict have been banished forever… well, not really.

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Now I’m Glad We Didn’t Skip It

About a year ago, I wrote about the bizarre attempt by some Latino organizations to boycott the U.S. Census. As far as I know, this baffling protest never took off.

As a result, Census numbers continue to trickle in, and they offer the occasionally intriguing, often disturbing look at the state of Hispanics in America. Yes, we have fresh proof that Latinos are the fastest growing demographic, but come on; you know that one already.

But were you aware that Latinos are the most likely group to not have any health insurance (32.4 percent of all Hispanics)? Well, in that case, it’s a damn good thing I’m here to pass along these Census statistics to you, isn’t it?

Now, some of the numbers are more official than others. A few offer only a snapshot of 2010 or even 2009. But all of them are as accurate and precise as government bureaucracies can get.

The most alarming of these figures is the fact that more than a quarter of Latinos (25.4 percent) live in poverty. This compares to an overall poverty rate of 14.5 percent, and is more than double the rate for whites and Asians. But it’s still less than blacks and Native Americans (who “win” this category with a rate of 27.7 percent).

Put another way — and Census numbers are all about putting things another way — the median household income for Latinos was just 70 percent of that for whites. The lack of take-home pay is no doubt because Latinos have an unemployment rate of 12.9 percent, far higher than whites (8.7 percent) and Asian Americans (7.3 percent).

Those grotesque figures would be even more dismal if Puerto Rico, hit hard by the recession, was included in the analysis. Because it’s not a state, the island gets its own set of numbers — including the wacky stat that “massive emigration to the United States and the reduction in birth rate have caused a drop of 2.2% in the population of Puerto Rico.” Apparently, there’s a stampede of Puerto Ricans into the mainland, but that’s a whole other post.

Of course, numbers don’t tell the whole story. The Center for American Progress breaks down these figures by saying, “racial and ethnic differences have worsened or stayed the same during the recession and recovery.” These killjoys point out that unemployment and poverty rates rose for Hispanics, while health insurance coverage, retirement savings, and homeownership rates all fell.

In fact, the Center says that “Latino homeownership rates in 2010 … were again close to their levels in 2001 even though Latino homeownership rates had risen from 2000 to 2007.” But I’m going to call my bad on that one. I contributed to the statistics by buying a house in 2004 and selling it in 2009 (no, the bank didn’t foreclose on us).

In sum, the Census numbers “show widening gaps by race and ethnicity throughout the recession and recovery.” The best we can hope for is that the 2020 Census reveals more uplifting news — unless we boycott that one.


The Numbers Are In

Let’s start this New Year with some quick facts, courtesy of the 2010 U.S. Census:

  • The resident population of the United States is now 308,745,558, a 9.7 percent increase over 2000
  • Latino population growth for the decade was around 29 percent
  • Non-Latino population growth was about 4 percent
  • The fastest-growing states were generally states with large Latino populations

At the great risk of pointing out the obvious, it’s clear that Hispanics are a big reason that this country is growing at all. Keep in mind that immigration, both legal and illegal, has been declining ever since the Great Recession began, which means that Latino population growth would be even greater if not for the quirky anomaly of a total economic collapse.

So Latinos are driving America’s growth. Depending on your perspective, this is either a positive development for multiculturalism or the final stage of the dreaded Brown Invasion.

One thing that it indisputably means, however, is that Hispanic influence — on everything from political movements to pop culture events — will only increase in the new decade.

It may also mean the death of a particularly pernicious tactic: Scapegoating Hispanics for America’s ills.

But hatred is a strong and insatiable monster, and as Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, has stated, “Turning our population numbers into political and economic power is not an automatic or simple thing to accomplish.”

So expect the fear-mongering to go on for a while, even as Latinos become more numerous, and we segue from exotic pioneers to next-door neighbors.

By the way, the U.S. population grew at its lowest rate since the Great Depression. So without Hispanics, the United States would be in danger of becoming one of those teetering industrial nations, like Japan or Italy, where stagnant growth is causing widespread concern about the future. That’s not really the case here.

You’re welcome, America.


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