There are some six million Hispanic students enrolled in elementary schools across the US. (Photo by Lloyd Wolf for the US Census Bureau)



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Blacks increasingly wary as Latinos
become fastest-growing US minority

By Tony Favro, USA Editor

28 November 2007: Traditional minorities – Blacks, Latinos, Asians -- are expected to become the majority in the US by 2050. This is the consensus of most American demographers. According to data released in 2007 by the US Census Bureau, Latinos continue to be the largest minority group in the US at 42.7 million. They are also the fastest growing minority group, increasing 3.3 per cent over the past year, and 19.7 per cent in the past five years. Most of the growth is due to immigration from Mexico.

The second largest minority group, when people were identified by one race, was Blacks at 37.9 million, followed by Asians at 12.7 million. The Asian population grew at a rate of 18.7 per cent over the past five years.

In total, over 98 million US residents are Latino, Black, Asian, or members of another minority group, representing nearly 34 per cent of the total population. Non-Latino whites account for 198 million residents, or about 66 per cent of the current US population. The white population is growing at less than one-fifth the rate of the minority population.

Cities and suburbs
Traditional minorities have been the majority for years in American cities such as Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, and Washington, DC. Even is smaller cities like Springfield (Massachusetts) and Buffalo (New York), whites have been the minority since the 1980s.

While American central cities have always been a melting pot of different races and ethnicities, recent reports by the Brookings Institution show that suburbs are also attracting large numbers of immigrants. Most of the population growth in many metropolitan regions, particularly those in the southwestern US, is occurring in the suburbs, and most of that growth is due to an influx of immigrants.

The history of the American suburb is largely a lesson in segregation. Suburbs grew as white American sought to distance themselves from Blacks and dark-skinned immigrants who settled in the cities. Now, however, immigrants are bypassing the cities and moving directly to the suburbs.

Moreover, the Black population of many cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and New York City, is declining. Blacks are moving to the suburbs, often for better schools, increased public safety, and improved housing – but also in reaction to immigration.

Black reactions to immigration
At the turn of the twentieth century, American President Teddy Roosevelt warned Congress that its open immigration policies would lead to “race suicide” as the strange traditions of newly-arriving southern and eastern European immigrants would destroy American (i.e., white, Anglo-Saxon) culture.

Prominent Black leaders of the time also protested against federal policies that allowed large numbers of immigrants to enter the US – but for a different reason. Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, and other founders of the civil rights movement in the US argued that eastern European immigrants were taking jobs from Blacks.

The wariness of immigration by some Blacks continues. A 2006 poll by the Pew Center, a nonpartisan research organization, found a higher percentage of Blacks than whites say they or a family member lost a job or didn’t get one because of an immigrant, and that Blacks more often feel immigrants take jobs from US citizens.

In recent years, Blacks have joined the Minuteman Project, a border-watch group that reports illegal crossings from Mexico into the southwestern United States, and whose members are often considered vigilantes and racists.

In 2006, a coalition of economists, educators, and community leaders called Choose Black America successfully lobbied President Bush and Congress to reject immigration-reform legislation. They believed the proposed law would allow low-wage immigrant workers to flood the US labor market.

The impact of immigration on the wages and employment of Black workers is difficult to quantify. A 2004 study by Harvard University professor George Borjas found that the influx of all immigrants between 1980 and 2000 drove down wages 4.5 per cent for Blacks and 5 per cent for Latinos.

And US Labor Department statistics show that in 2006, for the first time, unemployment for American-born workers, at 5.2 per cent, was higher than that of those born elsewhere, 4.6 per cent.

Perhaps Black anxiety over possible job loss resulting from immigration can best be understood by looking at the dismal unemployment rate for Blacks ages 18 to 29. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that joblessness among Blacks without a high-school diploma was nearly 30 per cent in 2006, and around 19 per cent for those with a diploma.

There is little evidence, however, that either Black or white American workers in large numbers would take jobs as dishwashers, housekeepers, gardeners, agricultural harvesters, and other low-paying positions typically filled by immigrants.

Toward a melting pot?
Both black and white Americans have a long history in the US, and both react to the arrival of immigrants. 

White Americans historically reacted to the growing diversity of the nation’s population by fleeing to the all-white suburbs. Now, however, the diversity is following them. Suburbs are becoming ethnically and racially mixed.

It’s clear that immigration is rearranging the way Americans live. What is less clear is how the social implications of increasing diversity will sort themselves out. If history is any guide, Americans will eventually adjust to the growing diversity of the population, just as they accepted – after many turbulent years – European immigrants a century ago. If this happens, the idea of a majority population of any one race or ethnicity may become a fanciful, out-of-date notion, and the US might truly become the world’s melting pot.


Low-paid immigrants in the US work mainly in agriculture, landscaping and construction


Also by Tony Favro
US mayors concerned about collapse of immigration reform
The collapse last month of US immigration reform legislation in June 2007 heightened concerns of mayors. “We will not have an economy, we will not have an America without a constant stream of immigrants coming into this country,” New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg told the New York Post newspaper. Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigoas set up a special commission to explore ways his city can deal with illegal, but necessary, immigrant workers.

Elsewhere, in the small city of Georgetown, Delaware (population 4900) mayor Mike Wyatt responded to the failure of the immigration reform bill by saying, "The economy of Georgetown… I would hate to imagine what it would be like without the Hispanic workers. They are the ones keeping it going."

Given the reliance of local economies on undocumented immigrant workers and the bitterness of the debate in the US, it is helpful to examine the issue in more depth. More