Just when we think our detractors are gaining strength, when efforts to turn back the civil rights clock are making it harder for Latinos to realize the American Dream, the U.S. Census Bureau gives us a much-needed confidence boost.
Around this time every year, in anticipation of the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, the bureau releases a terrific compilation of "facts for features" that will be used by news reporters and producers not only during the during the Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 festivities, but throughout the year.
Depending on the stories they are covering about the Hispanic community, journalists will cite some of the figures contained in the bureau's document. Whether the story is about Hispanic business, education, politics or many other issues, some of the stats will be used to provide a demographic background that will lend credibility to news reports.
But when we look at the entire demographic picture that is painted by all these figures, that's when we really see that the Latino civil rights clock is irreversible.
The bureau's newly released "Profile America: Facts for Features" for Hispanic Heritage Month 2011 says that as of April 1, 2010, there were 50.5 million people of Hispanic origin in the United States (up from 22.4 million in 1990 and 35.3 million in 2000); they represented 16.3 percent of the nation's total population; and they live in 10.4 million households. Those impressive figures don't even include the 3.7 million residents of that precious U.S. territory known as Puerto Rico.
The report says that the Latino population increased by 3 million people in California between 2000 and 2010, it went up by 148 percent in South Carolina during that same period, and there are 16 states with at least a half-million Latinos.
The new Hispanic Heritage Month fact sheet says that Latinos are not only the nation's largest ethnic or race minority, but also still the fastest-growing group — with a 43 percent increase in population between 2000 and 2010. It says Latinos are also the largest minority in 25 states and a majority in 82 counties. The report projects that by the 2050 census, Latinos will be 132.8 million strong — 30 percent of the U.S. population.
Of course, Latino population numbers can be quite deceiving, especially since they are so much higher than the more important Latino voter registration figures. But when the population grows dramatically, if only by a trickle down effect, so does the number of Latino voters.
The bureau says 9.7 million Latinos voted in the 2008 presidential election, which is about 2 million more than in the 2004 elections. Yet that's only 50 percent of Latinos actually voting (up from 47 percent in 2004). The other half illustrates the huge potential for Hispanic political empowerment. It includes many who are too young to vote and many who are ineligible because they are not yet American citizens. But it also includes many others who could easily naturalize, become registered voters and help their community speak with a louder voice in the American public square.
If the projected future Latino population numbers are impressive, so is the potential for registering thousands of new voters, now.
However, the fact sheet also shows the areas where Latinos are making little progress. While the median income of Hispanic households was $35,967 in 2005, it had only gone up to $38,039 by 2009. While 32 percent of U.S. Latinos lacked health insurance in 2004, that figure remained unchanged in 2009. In some areas, Latinos went backward. While the poverty rate among Latinos was 21.8 percent in 2004, it was up to 25.3 percent in 2009. New figures on Latino income, poverty and health insurance will be released by the bureau in late September, but given the state of our economy and the 11.3 percent Hispanic unemployment rate, we can't expect them to be better.
When compared with the fact sheets of previous years, the 2011 version shows a brighter picture on the road ahead for Latinos, although painting that picture can be a slow process. Of Hispanics 25 and older, 58 percent had at least a high school education in 2004, that figure was up to 63 percent in 2010. While 12 percent had a college degree in 2004, 14 percent had graduated from college by 2010.
But there are many other impressive figures in the new Hispanic Heritage fact sheet — numbers that should make Latinos take pride in their contributions to this great nation. It says there are 1.1 million Latino veterans of the U.S. armed forces. It also says that as of 2007, there were 2.3 million Hispanic-owned businesses in the country, a 43.7 percent increase from 2002. Those businesses generated $345.2 billion in 2007, up by 55.5 percent from 2002.
The fact sheet also gives us a clear breakdown of the ethnic background of the U.S. Hispanic population: 63 percent Mexican, 9.2 percent Puerto Rican, 3.5 percent Cuban, 3.3 percent Salvadoran, 2.8 Dominican and the rest are from other Hispanic origin countries.
Of all the Hispanic countries in the world, the United States already is the second largest. According to the fact sheet, only Mexico, with 112 million people, has more Latinos.
Of course, while all these figures mostly paint a positive picture for Latinos, they draw a scary image for those who feel threatened by ethnic diversity and the dramatic growth of the U.S. Hispanic population.
To the xenophobes, the bureau's new fact sheet will be absolute proof that we are being invaded by "aliens" who are trying to "take over." But to Latinos, including some whose ancestors pre-date the Mayflower, it shows that we are an integral part of this great nation, that we are finally gaining our rightful place in American society, and that the civil rights clock only moves forward.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.