PRB Discuss Online: Latinos in the United States in 2010

(January 2011) The Latino population has experienced rapid growth beyond other racial groups in the United States. What are the dynamics behind this upward trend? What are the demographic and socioeconomic attributes of the varying groups within the Latino population? PRB’s Population Bulletin Update, “Latinos in the United States 2010,” is a follow-up to 1997’s Population Bulletin, “Generations of Diversity: Latinos in the United States,” and provides new data and analysis on the U.S. Latino population and its diversity, socioeconomic status, and issues of identity. In a PRB Discuss Online, Rogelio Saenz, professor of sociology at Texas A&M University and author of the Population Bulletin Update, answered questions from participants about Latinos in the United States.

Jan. 10, 2011 1 PM (EST)

Transcript of Questions and Answers

Jim Cohen: Given what you know prior to the publication of the 2010 census data, would you expect the “other race” option to be less popular, more popular, or about the same nationally as in 2000. Thanks for any insights (or prophecies) you might have on this.
Rogelio Saenz: Comparison of the results from the 2000 decennial census and the 2009 American Community Survey (ACS) shows that the percentage of Latinos referring to their race as “white” increased from 48 percent in 2000 to 63 percent in 2009, while the percentage referring to their race as “other” dropped from 43 percent to 29 percent, respectively. Thus, the 2010 decennial census results are likely to be similar to those from the 2009 ACS. The major difference in the question is that in the 2009 ACS and the 2010 decennial census people were instructed that “Hispanic origins are not races,” which was not the case in the 2000 decennial census.

Yessenia Garcia-Lebron: Has there be national thought to how “The influence of the Latino population will only grow in coming decades, and mostly through natural increase, not immigration” can be marketed or highlighted in order to diffuse the negative immigration bashing?
Rogelio Saenz: This is an interesting question. I suppose that Latino advocacy groups are likely to make the argument that the growth of the Latino population is increasingly due to growth in the U.S.-born segment of the population. However, I suspect that the immigrant-bashing machinery would simply refocus its target in response, as we have seen with increasing attention to overturn the 14th amendment dealing with persons born in the United States automatically receiving U.S. citizenship status.

AV: How is the identity of ‘Latino’ defined precisely? Is it different from Hispanic? Do people currently in or from Spain also get counted in either of these two categories?
Rogelio Saenz: The census does not distinguish between “Latino” and “Hispanic” identity. People simply were asked in the 2010 decennial census as well as in the 2009 American Community Survey (ACS), if they are of “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.” Thus, persons living in the United States and originating from Spain, are counted as part of the “Latino” or “Hispanic” group if they indicate that they are of “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.”

J. Andrade: How will the Latino community evolve from being labeled a “minority” community or will it evolve? There are parts of the country where this title is not fitting anymore. Who will we be, how will we define ourselves?
Rogelio Saenz: When we speak of the term “minority” (as well as its counterpart term “majority”), we tend to be talking about issues related to political power and social and economic standing. Thus, groups such as Latinos, African Americans, and Native Americans have been defined as minority groups with whites representing the majority group. This traditional view of “minority group” and “majority group” should not be confused with the terms “numeric minority” and “numeric majority” based simply on the number of people in a given area. It is pretty certain that in the future when whites are expected to represent less than half of the U.S. population, they will continue to be the majority group with respect to political power and social and economic standing. The case of South Africa during apartheid represents another useful example. Even though whites were a numeric minority in the country during apartheid, they were the majority group with respect to political power and social and economic standing.

Robert Prentiss: In a December 2010 report to the UN, the ACLU said concerning undocumented migrant worker’s rights courts have severely circumscribed available remedies including back pay, state tort remedies, and workers’compensation. What is the effect of laws like that in Arizona on the likelihood that there will be a major outpouring of Latinos to other states as harsh practices are put into effect?
Rogelio Saenz: With the passage of harsh anti-immigrant laws such as SB 1070 in Arizona which makes immigrants even more vulnerable than they already are, it is likely that Latino immigrants will move out of such states. It is likely that the passage of Proposition 187 in California in 1994 and the anti-immigrant environment it spawned (along with the declining California economy) pushed Latino immigrants to other states including Texas and new destination areas in the South and the Midwest. While we still do not have the data necessary to determine the impact of SB 1070 on the out-migration of Latinos from Arizona, there are anecdotal accounts of Latinos in Arizona moving to other states.

Cecily Westermann: Many whites and Asians, some blacks, and a comparative few Latinos recognize that U.S. population growth has already adversely affected our quality of life, and that limiting one’s biological children to two or fewer is a personal responsibility. What can be done to convince Latinos of this?
Rogelio Saenz: Sociological and demographic research based in the United States as well as internationally has demonstrated that education is the key for bringing down fertility rates. The reason is simple—it is because education opens doors to social and economic opportunities and provides young women with alternative options to early childbearing and early marriage. Thus, among white women, those with the highest educational levels tend to have the lowest average number of births throughout their lifetimes while those with the lowest educational levels tend to have the highest average number of births. Latina women—especially those of Mexican-origin—have the lowest level of education among all racial and ethnic groups, thus explaining the group’s high level of fertility. Latina women with high levels of education tend to have relatively low levels of fertility.

jose angel gutierrez: What is best formula to use in an attempt to estimate the number of eligible Hispanic voters in any given locality for 2011 and beyond, given the large number of those under-18 years of age and the approximate 26 percent that are undocumented within the general U.S. Hispanic population as reported in 2000?
Rogelio Saenz: There is not a standard formula that can be used to estimate the eligible number of Latino voters in a given area. Furthermore, the decennial census does not include a question on nativity and citizenship status. At best, individual-level public-use files from the annual American Community Surveys (ACS) offer the best possibility to approximate the best estimates of Latino eligible voters. The caveat is that only larger geographic units can be identified from such files, e.g., national level, state level, and the larger metropolitan areas. This would involve for a given area—say the state of Ohio—obtaining the number of Latinos who are 18 and older and who are U.S.-born or naturalized citizens. Of course, these are overestimates of Latino eligible voters because it is difficult to obtain the number of incarcerated Latinos as well as the number that are ineligible to vote due to criminal records.

Rudy Vargas: What is the Hispanic/Latino breakdown in the City of New York? If possible what is the breakdown by borough (Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens)?
Rogelio Saenz: The New York City Department of City Planning has developed estimates of New York City’s Latino population broken down by national origin and for each of its boroughs. These estimates can be accessed at

Alberto Ruiz: Why is it so difficult for Latinos in the U.S. to be accepted in main stream English-language media? Do census statistics include Latinos’ first-language with their age ranges? I would be interested to know if other English speaking Latinos feel as unsatisfied as I do about the inclusion of Latino names and faces in the portrayal of “Americans” on English-language T.V. and radio?
Rogelio Saenz: Latinos continue to be underrepresented in the English-language mass media. This can be seen, for example, in prime-time programs as well as in national news programs that discuss political, social, and economic issues. The voices and faces of Latinos continue to be missing from such programs. The absence of Latinos occurs due to a variety of factors including stereotypes, misconceptions, institutional racism, and so forth. The sources below are useful in gaining an understanding of Latinos in the mass media and the barriers that they face:

1) Mastro, Dana E. and Elizabeth Behm-Morawithz. 2005. “Latino Representation on Primetime Television.” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 82 (1):110-130.

2) Portales, Marco. 2000. Crowding Out Latinos: Mexican Americans in the Public Consciousness. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Census data do not contain information about people’s first language. However, census data are available on the language that people speak at home as well as, for persons who speak a language other than English at home, their fluency in English. These data are broken down by nativity status. The following link, from the Census Bureau’s American FactFinder website, provides this information based on the 2009 American Community Survey (ACS) for the United States:

The data can be further broken down by age using the individual-level public-use American Community Survey (ACS).

Liriana Pons: How do income,education and race compare for Cuban Americans of the first and second generations that entered prior to 1980 to entrants after the 1980 Mariel boatlift? Are Cuban-Americans losing or increasing their upward mobility?
Rogelio Saenz: Data analysis using the individual-level public-use 2009 American Community Survey (ACS) show social and economic variations between U.S.-born Cubans, foreign-born Cubans immigrating before 1980, and foreign-born Cubans immigrating in 1980 or later. To make the comparisons more accurate and control for age differences across these three groups, the analysis is based on persons 25 to 54 years of age. Below are the results based on this analysis that I conducted:

1) Across all Cuban groups, a high proportion (at least 84 percent) identify themselves racially as white, although foreign-born Cubans who immigrated before 1980 are the most likely to identify as white (91 percent).

2) U.S.-born Cubans (37 percent) and foreign-born Cubans immigrating before 1980 (34 percent) are much more likely to have at least a bachelor’s degree compared to foreign-born Cubans immigrating in 1980 or later (19 percent).

3) Foreign-born Cubans immigrating before 1980 ($79,500) and U.S.-born Cubans ($69,000) have significantly higher median family incomes compared to foreign-born Cubans immigrating in 1980 or later ($40,000).

These data show that Cubans, as a group, are experiencing upward social mobility.

Gil Narro Garcia: Other than the obvious stats on the increasing number of Latinos in the US, it is not evident that there are any significant and substantive changes. For example, why is it that across the landscape of professionals in most fields such as medicine, business, law, governance, etc., Latinos are not represented in any impactful way. Look at any Wash Post/NYTimes stories and rarely are Latinos featured, quoted, or even considered as sources of leading information. What do you think?
Rogelio Saenz: Latino workers are much less likely than whites to be working in management, professional, and related occupations. In large part, this difference reflects the significant differences in educational levels between Latino and white workers. Nonetheless, there is great variation within the Latino population in terms of the occupations that workers hold. For example, U.S.-born Cubans and U.S.-born South Americans compare favorably to whites in terms of the occupational socioeconomic index (based on level of education and level of income of the occupations that they hold). In contrast, foreign-born Mexicans and foreign-born Central Americans work in jobs with the lowest occupational socioeconomic levels.

John Tascher: Many Hispanic people without Spanish accents appear indistinguishable from non-Hispanic whites. About half of Hispanics identified themselves as white in the 2000 Census. Why do some groups and some writers refer to Hispanics as a group as “people of color?”
Rogelio Saenz: There are some Latinos who are monolingual-English speakers who do not have a trace of a Spanish accent and who look physically white and, thus, may not be distinguishable from non-Hispanic whites. However, the majority of Latinos are not in this category. Yet, according to the 2009 American Community Survey close to two-thirds of Latinos identified themselves racially as “white.” These patterns illustrate the complexity in racial identification. As social scientists have long observed, race (as well as ethnicity) is socially constructed—based on social as oppose to physical and genetic characteristics—and it is often dynamic (subject to change with time) and situational (subject to change in varying —situations and contexts). The term “people of color” has been used by some writers to refer to non-whites (such as Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, etc.)—as such the term “people of color” is often used interchangeably with the term “non-white.”

Juan Marinez: When do you think the public policy impacts by Hispanic in National and or regional issues forums can be made?
Rogelio Saenz: Given the major impact that Latinos have on the current and future population growth of the United States, it is imperative that national and regional forums incorporate and address issues related to the Latino population now. As others have pointed out here through their questions and comments, there continues to be a void in the incorporation of Latinos into public policy dialogues at regional and national levels.

Johnny Silvas: What can we do as Latinos to send a message to the T.V. Networks that we’re not happy about being left out of the media here in America. I see more and more commercials with whites and black americans but rarely do Hispanics show up. I thought Latinos had a huge purchasing power here in the U.S. I remember at one time it being in the BILLIONS!
Rogelio Saenz: The absence of Latinos in the mass media is a common topic in this discussion. The major national Latino organizations, such as the National Council of La Raza, are probably in the best position to make this point to the mass media about the underrepresentation of Latinos. As you point out, the purchasing power of Latinos is huge and is growing rapidly. For example, a 2010 report by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business found that:

1) in the past decade, the buying power of Latinos grew the most rapidly (108 percent increase) compared to that of other racial and ethnic groups.

2) the buying power of Latinos is projected to grow from $1 trillion in 2010 to $1.5 trillion in 2015, which would represent about 11 percent of the U.S. buying power.

An article based on this report can be found at

Juanita Tamayo Lott: Hola, Rogelio, Partly in response to Yessenia’s question but also in terms of sociological imagination and the rise of pioneer organizations, LULAC and GI Forum, what is the critical research on civic engagement of young Latino/a active and veteran military? What is the prospective research on the vital contributions of the Latino/a labor force to the current and future U.S. economic well-being competitiveness? – Gracias, Juanita
Rogelio Saenz: The rapid growth of the Latino population in the United States will impact all societal institutions—including as you mention in your comment and question, the military and labor market. There are a couple of recent articles that examine Latinos in the military, one suggesting that Latinos are somewhat underrepresented today in the military and the other pointing to the Army’s Hispanic future. The citations are listed below.

1) Segal, Mady Wechsler and David R. Segal. 2007. “Hispanic and African American Men and Women in the U.S. Military.” Race, Gender & Class 14 (3-4):48-64.

2) Dempsey, Jason K. and Robert Y. Shapiro. 2009. “The Army’s Hispanic Future.”Armed Forces & Society 35 (3):526-561.

In the area of the future labor force, a 2005 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics titled Labor Force Projections to 2014: Retiring Boomers indicates that:

1) the growth in the labor market between 2004 and 2014 will occur disproportionately among Latinos and Asians.

2) the share of the U.S. labor force that is Latino is expected to grow from 9 percent in 1994, to 13 percent in 2004, and to 16 percent in 2014.

This report can be accessed at

Caitlin Canfield: What are the future political-demographic implications of both Latino immigration to the United States, as well as the comparably higher birth rates experienced by Latina women in the U.S.? In the face of an aging baby boomer generation and the economic pressures that this will place on public social services (i.e., medicare, social security), does the upward population pressure created by Latino immigration and birth rates create hope for future American generation’s economic and social viability?
Rogelio Saenz: As the baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 reach retirement age, we will see a massive growth in the U.S. elderly population alongside major growth in the Latino youth and working-age population. Given these trends it is today’s Latino youth that will be called on to provide the resources (e.g., labor and economic) needed to support an increasingly aging population and one in which work is becoming increasingly technological and global. Given that today, Latino youth continue to have the lowest levels of education, it is crucial that investments be made in their education and in efforts to see them succeed educationally. As the baby boomers retire, there will be the opportunity for today’s Latino youth to experience upward social mobility. However, the key will be education and opening doors of opportunity. Policymakers will need to create programs and opportunities, including the Dream Act, which will allow today’s Latino youth to prosper and participate in civic society. Given the growth of the Latino population, the future of the Latino population will increasingly be tied to the fortunes of its Latino population.

aurelia lorena murga: This is a broad question, but in looking towards the future and examining the educational gap of Latinos—and other youth of color—what suggestion(s), in terms of policy implementations, could you offer for shrinking this educational attainment gap?
Rogelio Saenz: There are many things that can be done to try to narrow the educational gap between Latino (and other youth of color) and whites. As a base, Latino children continue to have the lowest levels of pre-K schooling, which is crucial for the cognitive development of young children. As such, there needs to be funding for programs such as Head Start and related programs that prepare youth cognitively and academically very early in order to narrow the uneven field that they encounter when they enter kindergarten. In addition, K-16 programs need to be created to allow youth to realize early on in their schooling the types of educational possibilities that exist. This will involve colleges and universities working alongside school districts in efforts to prepare students to succeed at the K-12 level in order for them to be prepared for higher education. Moreover, there is also something that happens at around 7th grade that results in Latino and other minority-group youth experiencing problems in schools, which is associated with disciplinary problems and the increasing propensity of dropping out. There need to be efforts to deal with this crucial period and to identify the roots of this problem. Moreover, there needs to be greater attention to the curriculum particularly with respect to: a) greater attention to critical thinking, writing, etc. compared to undue emphasis on “teaching to the test” associated with high-stakes testing and b) building on the cultures, values, and languages that Latino students bring to the table rather than engaging in what Angela Valenzuela calls “subtractive education,” in which these elements are ignored or disrespected in the education of youth.

Maria Cristina Morales: Considering the harsh political climate that the US is in, as evident in the Arizona tragedy this past weekend, do you perceive that Latina/o issues will receive even less political attention?
Rogelio Saenz: The harsh anti-immigrant climate that we are in right now along with the shifts in the political terrain following the last round of elections suggests that there will be less attention to such crucial issues affecting Latinos such as in the areas of education, healthcare, and immigration reform.

Tyjen Tsai: What do prospects look like for the DREAM act in the new Congress? Do you think there’s hope for its passage if it’s not considered in the next two years?
Rogelio Saenz: Given the shift in the political terrain in the last round of elections, as I responded to Cristina Morales, there is not much optimism for the passage of the Dream Act in the next couple of years. I think there would have to be a major change in the political structure over the next few years in order to make the Dream Act a more realistic possibility.

Charlie Teller: Hola Rogelio, it is so important that you emphasize the great diversity within the Latino population in the US and to avoid stereotypes. Given such generational differences, how does the TFR among second and third generation Latinas compare with that of their first generation mothers and grandmothers? And, relatedly, what are the main factors that influence second/third generation Latinas to become college educated? Gracias
Rogelio Saenz: There certainly is a significant amount of variation within the Latino population. The PRB bulletin update that I prepared shows the great variation that exists across the different national-origin groups that constitute the Latino population and across nativity status. Unfortunately, the ACS or decennial data do not allow us to disaggregate the Latino population into generational status aside from U.S.-born and foreign-born. You highlight the area of fertility in your comment and question. As the latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics show in 2007 the total fertility rate (TFR) of the different major Latino groups varied greatly: Mexicans, 3.1; Puerto Ricans, 2.2; and Cubans, 1.6. The TFR of whites is 1.9 and that of blacks is 2.1. As you point out, there are variations within groups on the basis of generational status, with fertility declining with increasing generational levels. What are the main factors associated with second and third generation Latinas going to college? I think such factors include the availability of opportunities for educational growth, supportive high school climates that support Latina, caring teachers who serve as mentors, parental support, and so forth. Latinas today are more likely to have completed high school and college compared to male Latinos.

Gina K. Thornburg: Does the Population Reference Bureau value smaller-scale qualitative, ethnographic fieldwork among the Latino communities in the United States? If so, in what ways does the PRB see such qualitative work as complementing and/or contributing to its own quantitative work, which tends to be based on very large sets of data? How can qualitative work be used to inform policy decisions?
Rogelio Saenz: There is a trend in sociology and to a certain extent in demography as well to incorporate quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches. Perhaps the area of migration is ahead of other demographic areas in incorporating the two approaches. The ethnosurvey developed by Douglas Massey and Jorge Durand has certainly provided a model for immigration studies in the incorporation of traditional survey methods and qualitative, ethnographic approaches. We are seeing more of the use of this dual approach also in the study of fertility and health as well. I think that ethnographic data have the potential for informing public policy by putting a human voice and human face to the more structural patterns that are revealed by quantitative data based on large datasets.

Luis Castilla: Do you think the rise of Latino numbers will eventually lead this nation to a new Civil Rights Era with recognition of the huge contributions of Hispanic immigrants, or will millions continue to live in obscurity for many years to come?
Rogelio Saenz: Civil rights legislation in this country occurred over a relatively short time period between the mid-1960s and early 1970s. Since then we have seen a significant erosion of civil rights legislation. In fact, as Gary Orfield and Jonathan Kozol have demonstrated, we now have public schools that are as segregated as they were prior to laws mandating the desegregation of schools. The current political environment is not likely to result in greater attention to civil rights legislation.

Luis Castilla: I would like to note that the label “Latino” is pretty inadequate to describe someone of Hispanic origin, just as “White” or “Black” or “Asian” is very limited when talking about people’s heritage. People from Mexico are very different from other Latin American countries, just like Germans are very different from Spaniards. Is the American public ready to dwell into the fine differences between people’s, and if so, how deep are they ready to go?
Rogelio Saenz: Yes, all of the racial terms as well as the Latino/Hispanic terms do not capture the great diversity that exists within each of these groups. These terms incorporate persons with different experiences, cultures, national origins, languages, and so forth.

Debbie: I agree thoroughly with your assessment of the importance of education on quality of life for Latinos/Hispanics, this is related to so many other dimensions associated with race/ethnicity. For example in completing the 2010 census, many Hispanics were unaware of the differences between race and ethnicity and even educated Latinos were awed in how to respond. This was particularly so for those with children of mixed heritage (white/Hispanic). Do you see OMB changing any of the race ethnicity groups, so that we can better capture granular differences in groups (aside from write-in or more than one race)? Do you foresee the possibility of allowing for Hispanic ethnicity to be considered a race, such as one survey/census question (as was tested in the 2010)?
Rogelio Saenz: This is a very good observation and question. There continues to be some degree of confusion and misunderstanding in the public in general on the distinction between race and ethnicity. In many ways, this also illustrates how race and ethnicity are socially constructed. Among Latinos there continues to be questions regarding the Latino/Hispanic ethnicity question and the race question. This particularly became evident during the time surrounding the 2010 census. Will the OMB change definitions? OMB has made adjustments over the year, although not with great frequency. Perhaps public pressure would lead to some changes. Will Hispanic/Latino be considered a race? Again, only time will tell on this. In the 1930 census, Mexican was considered a race. In the 2010 census, the subgroups within the Asian population are considered races. Many Latinos ask “why is this not the case for us?”

Hazel Denton: You have stated, in an earlier answer, that “the white population will become the minority”—BUT, that is only if white hispanics are not counted as white. Surely it’s very important to distinguish between “white” and “minority” in this context.
Rogelio Saenz: I was referring to when non-Hispanic whites would represent less than 50 percent of the population. This excludes Hispanics/Latinos who refer to themselves racially as white. In reality, at the national level, non-Hispanic whites even then would still be the numeric majority in the sense that their numbers would be larger than any other specific racial and ethnic groups. For example, Census Bureau population projections for 2050 suggest that there could be 203,347,000 non-Hispanic single-race whites compared to 132,792,000 Latinos. However, non-Hispanic whites would be the numeric majority compared to all non-white groups aggregated.

Fanny Veliz: Hello, When do you think the media will catch up with th