Stateline Story

Census Bureau Estimates Big Gain in Minority Populations

The ranks of Hispanics, Asians and other minority groups in the United States rose "substantially" from 1990 to 1998, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Three states where affirmative action policies are under challenge, California, Texas and Florida, showed significant increases in their minority populations. Two experts look at what it might mean to states to have more minorities within their borders. For more, click here.

Slightly more than one in four U.S. citizens, or 28 percent, were Hispanic, Asian, African American or Native American in 1998, according to Census data released Wednesday. That compares with 24 percent in 1990 and 20 percent -- or one in five -- in 1980.

"These (1990 to 1998) estimates show that the number of Hispanics, and the number of Asians and other racial groups living in the United States has increased substantially during the 1990s," Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt says. "However, Census 2000 will provide more precise information on the demographics of America."

In terms of sheer numbers, Hispanics had the largest estimated growth in numbers, upswing, moving from 22.4 million people in 1990 to 30.3 million in 1998, a gain of 35.2 percent. Texas experienced the biggest increase in its Hispanic population, gaining 1.5 million Hispanic citizens from 1990 to 1998.

Florida had the second-largest rise in Hispanic residents, 669,000, followed by New York, 411,000 and Arizona, 345,000.

The state with the highest concentration of Hispanics, based on Census statistics, was New Mexico, where 40.3 percent of that state's population is Hispanic.

The biggest percentage gain, 40.8 percent, hit Asian and Pacific Islander populations from 1990 to 1998, the Census Bureau said. That group saw its population go from 7.5 million to 10.5 million in eight years. Most of that increase was absorbed by California, which saw experienced an increase of nearly 1 million people of Asian or Pacific heritage -- 990,000 -- from 1990 to 1998.

Next came New York, 285,000, Texas, 225,000, New Jersey, 176,000 and Florida, 115,000.

Of those five states, California and Texas have anti-affirmative action laws designed to eliminate race as a criteria when in state hiring and school admissions. And anti-affirmative action sentiment in Florida could lead to a similar referendum this year.

Hawaii had the biggest concentration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in 1998, 63.4 percent, the Census Bureau indicates.

Population for African Americans rose from 30.5 million in 1990 to 34.4 million in 1998, a 12.8-percent gain. Florida had the biggest increase, 495,000, during the eight years being studied. Georgia had 430,000 more African Americans in 1998 than in 1990, Texas, 382,000, Maryland, 232,000 and North Carolina, 204,000.

The state with the most African American residents in 1998 was New York, which had 3.2 million, according to the Census Bureau.

The American Indian, Eskimo and Aleut category went up from 2.1 million in 1990 to 2.4 million in 1998, a 14.3 percent gain, according to Census Bureau figures. The biggest upswing took place in Arizona, which had 42,000 more American Indian, Eskimo and Aleut citizens in 1998 than in 1990. The Census Bureaus puts New Mexico next at 25,000, Texas, 23,000, California, 23,000 and Florida, 21,000.

Alaska was the state with the highest percentage of American Indians, Eskimos and Aleuts, 16.2 percent.

What does having more minorities potentially mean for states?

For one thing, "the creation of more minority districts, which obviously have a higher likelihood of electing minority lawmakers to state legislatures and to Congress," says Tim Storey, with the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures. "You'll see them passing laws that are sensitive to the specific needs of those communities"

However, Storey cautions "it's one thing to be in the population, it's another thing to exercise political power at the ballot box. Plus, you have to keep in mind that we're dealing with mid-Census estimates. Until the real Census is taken, we don't know if those numbers will hold up."

States with more minorities may need stronger social services and education systems, says Kelvin Pollard, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that studies population trends.

"Hispanics and blacks tend to be poorer and might need more social services, or services such as education," Pollard says. "The populations of racial and ethnic minorities tend to be younger on average, so more attention will have to be paid to education."

Pollard predicts that in 25 years, minorities could outnumber whites in Texas, New Mexico and California.

From 1995 to 1998, a fair percentage of the Hispanic population boom was fueled by immigration, with the lion's of immigrants arriving from Mexico, according to Pollard, who says the Dominican Republic and Cuba are second and third respectively.

Immigration has also played a role in the extraordinary 40.8 percent gain shown by Asians and Pacific Islanders, Pollard says, adding that most emigrate from China, followed by India, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Pollard predicts that Hispanic clout in state legislatures will grow appreciably in coming years.