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Trends and Challenges Facing America's Latino Children

Latino children currently account for one-fourth of U.S. children under age 18, and by 2050 they are projected to make up nearly one-third of the child population.  Of the 18.2 million Latino children currently living in the United States, 95 percent are U.S.-born citizens.

How are Latino children faring and have their circumstances improved since the recession? A new publication, prepared in partnership between Population Reference Bureau (PRB) and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), presents a snapshot of Latinos under age 18 to highlight areas of concern to policymakers. The report was released at an event in Washington, D.C. on September 29: “What’s New in Latino Child Well-Being? A Roundtable Discussion on the Emerging Trends and Remaining Challenges for America’s Hispanic Children.”

Results from the report show that during the past decade, Latinos have made important gains in several key areas of well-being—especially on measures of educational attainment, health insurance coverage, teenage births, and youth incarceration. But Hispanic youth continue to lag behind white youth on many key social and economic indicators. New projections by PRB show that the number of low-income Latino youth could increase by 45 percent—from 11 million today to nearly 16 million by 2050—if current levels of inequality persist in the future.

Reducing these disparities—especially by reducing racial/ethnic gaps in poverty and education—will not only improve economic conditions for millions of Latino parents and children, but will also fuel economic growth by creating a well-qualified workforce.

Rapid Increase in Latino Youth

In 2015, there were 18.2 million Latino youth living in the United States. The number of Latino children increased by 47 percent between 2000 and 2015 while the number of white and black youth declined (see Table). In fact, the total U.S. population under age 18 would have declined by 4.5 million between 2000 and 2015 without the increase in Latino children.


Change in the Population Under Age 18, by Race/Ethnicity, 2000 to 2015

2000 Population Under Age 18 (000s) 2015 Population Under Age 18 (000s) Population Change (000s) Percent Change
Total 72,294 73,645 1,351 1.9
Latino 12,342 18,150 5,808 47.1
White* 44,027 37,927 -6,100 -13.9
Black* 10,610 10,166 -444 -4.2
Other* 5,314 7,401 2,087 39.3

*Non-Hispanic. “Other” includes American Indian/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, Asian American, and Multiracial.

U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 Census and 2015 Population Estimates.

The rapid growth of the Latino youth population can be attributed to two main factors. First, past immigration of Hispanics to the United States—primarily from Latin America and Mexico—has resulted in a large number of Latinos who are now in their prime childbearing years, compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Even if U.S. borders were closed to all new immigrants, the number of Latino youth would continue to increase because of the young age structure of the Latino population, which creates population momentum through a large number of couples who are starting families.

Second, although the fertility rate among Latinas has fallen sharply in recent years, from 2.7 births per woman in 2008 to 2.1 births per woman in 2014, the Latina fertility rate remains higher than the rate among black women (1.9) and white women (1.8).  In the United States, the overall replacement-level fertility, or the rate needed for a generation to replace itself, is around 2.1 births per woman.

Latino Youth Population Growing Fastest in South

Historically, the Latino population has been highly concentrated in the Southwest and West, and in a few metropolitan areas outside these regions, such as Chicago, Miami, and New York. In 2015, 58 percent of Latino youth still lived in just four states: California, Florida, New York, and Texas. However, Latino families and children are increasingly dispersing to other parts of the United States, especially to states in the Sun Belt. Eight of the 10 states with the fastest-growing populations of Latino children between 2000 and 2015 were located in the South.

California and New Mexico stand out because they are the only two states where Latinos made up a majority of the population under age 18 in 2015, although Texas—at 49%—could soon pass this threshold.

Just three states—California, Florida, and Texas—accounted for 41 percent of the increase in the Latino youth population between 2000 and 2015. The rapid increase in Latino youth in these states reflects a combination of factors, including a rebounding economy that has fueled domestic and international migration to many Sun Belt states, and recent immigration trends that contributed to rapid population growth among first- and second-generation Latinos, especially from Mexico.

In 2014, states in parts of Appalachia, the Mid-Atlantic region, Florida, and New Hampshire had the highest proportions of first-generation Latino children. Second-generation Hispanic children were most highly concentrated in the Southeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and Western regions. And third- and higher-generation Latino children had the highest concentrations in the Northeast and several states in the Northern Midwest and Mountain West regions. The Northeast includes many families and children from Puerto Rico who are U.S. citizens by birth.

How Are Latino Youth Faring?

  • In 2015, more than three-fifths of Latino youth (62 percent) lived in low-income families (families with income below 200 percent of the official poverty line). While this was slightly lower than the share of black children in low-income families (65 percent), it was twice the proportion for white children (31 percent). Arkansas and North Carolina had the highest shares of Latino children in low-income families in 2014, at more than 75 percent each.
  • If the current proportions of children in low-income families persist in the future, the number of low-income Latino youth will increase from 11 million today to nearly 16 million by 2015, according to PRB projections (see figure). The number of low-income white children is projected to decrease over time with the changing composition of America’s youth population.
  • In 2014, a majority of Latino youth (58 percent) lived in married-couple families, but this represents a substantial decline from the level in 2000 (68 percent). Nationwide, the share of all children in married-couple families decreased from 72 percent to 65 percent during the same period. Latino youth in the Northeast were more likely to live in single-parent families compared to those living in other parts of the country.
  • In 2014, about two-thirds (64 percent) of Latino children under age 18 lived with mothers who graduated from high school, compared to 79 percent of black children and 90 percent of white children. However, maternal education levels have increased sharply among Latinas since the turn of the millennium, which has reduced the size of this racial and ethnic education gap.
  • A major success during the past decade has been the narrowing gap in high school graduation rates between white and Latino youth. In 2004, about 67 percent of Latinos who entered ninth grade completed 12th grade on time with a regular diploma, compared to 80 percent of whites—a 13 percentage-point difference. By 2013, the graduation gap had shrunk to 7 percentage points, with 78 percent of Latino youth and 86 percent of whites graduating from high school on time.
  • In 2015, about 21 percent of Latino eighth graders were proficient or advanced in reading, up from 17 percent in 2009. The 2015 reading proficiency rate among Latino eighth graders was higher than the rate for black eighth graders (16 percent), but less than half the rate for whites (44 percent).
  • Implementation of the Affordable Care Act has led to historic gains in Latino children’s health insurance coverage. Between 2008 and 2014, the percentage of Latino children without health insurance fell sharply, from 19 percent to 10 percent. Nonetheless, Latino youth still lag behind other groups in health coverage, and continue to face higher risks for some health outcomes, such as obesity.
  • The Latina teenage birth rate declined from 87 births per 1,000 Latina teenagers in 2000 to 38 in 2014. The recent drop in teenage birth rates among Latinas and girls in other racial/ethnic groups may reflect higher rates of contraceptive use as well as higher proportions of teenagers who are delaying sex.

Addressing the Needs of a Diverse Latino Population

While the report paints a comprehensive picture of Latino child well-being, it also shows that outcomes and trends are not uniform and vary across regions and states. States in the Southeast, for example, which have had newer influxes of immigrants over the past decade, also have higher rates of first- and second- generation Latinos. Young Hispanics in these states tend to have worse educational and economic outcomes than those whose families have lived in the United States for several generations. On the other hand, Southeastern states also have much lower rates of childhood obesity than states in the Southwest, which have more third-generation youth. Obesity, among other negative outcomes, tends to increase with time spent in the United States; these acculturation-related trends will be especially important to tackle as the number of third- and higher-generation Latino youth increases over time.

Understanding how Latino children have been faring over time and across states can help us ensure that our nation—our schools, our clinics, our practitioners and policymakers—make the right decisions to support these children so that they may thrive and develop into healthy, productive adults.

For easy access to the data described in the report, disaggregated by race/ethnicity, state, and year, visit the UNIDOS Latino Kids Data Explorer.