U.S. Hispanic and Asian Population Growth Levels Off

(May 2009) U.S. Asian and Hispanic/Latino population growth rates have started to slow, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Latinos and Asians are still the country’s two fastest-growing minority groups, but their growth rates have slipped below the peaks reported earlier in the decade. This slowdown could dampen U.S. racial and ethnic change in the coming years. The Asian and Pacific Islander population increased 3.7 percent between 2000 and 2001, but just 2.5 percent between 2007 and 2008. There was a similar drop for Latinos over the same period, from 4.0 percent to 3.2 percent. The number of Latinos and Asians continue to grow, but the increase in 2007-2008 was below that of the previous year.1

Slower Growth Reflects Lower Immigration Rates

The slowdown in Asian and Latino population growth reflects the recent drop in international migration to the United States. At the beginning of the decade, the Census Bureau estimated net international migration at about 1.2 million per year. By 2008, that annual number had been adjusted downward to less than 900,000. Because most immigrants to the United States arrive from Latin America or Asia, a sustained drop in immigration levels could slow the pace of minority population growth. In 2007, about two-thirds of Asian Americans and two-fifths of Latinos were born outside of the United States.2

The drop in immigration levels also means that an even greater share of U.S. population growth is now attributable to natural increase (the excess of births over deaths). At the beginning of the decade, immigration accounted for roughly 40 percent of U.S. population growth, leaving 60 percent from natural increase. During the past few years, however, net international migration has accounted for only about 30 percent of U.S. population growth, with the rest coming from births. Many of these births have been to recent immigrants, creating a surge in the number of minority youth living in immigrant families.3 The latest census estimates show the addition of nearly a million Latinos through natural increase between 2007 and 2008.

What is causing the drop in immigration levels? The recent decline could reflect a combination of factors, in particular: the changing political climate and public sentiment following the Sept. 11 tragedy, leading to growing concerns about U.S. border security; the loss of jobs in construction, manufacturing, and other lower-wage sectors that are often filled by recent immigrants (especially Latinos); and a wave of new state and local policies that have limited access to services or privileges for immigrants and their children.4

More Counties Reach ‘Majority-Minority’ Status

Racial and ethnic minorities,5 which currently account for just over a third of the U.S. population, are projected to make up 50 percent of Americans by 2042. However, many U.S. counties have already passed that mark. In 2008, the number of counties where racial and ethnic minorities were a majority of the total population increased to 309—or nearly 10 percent of the nation’s 3,142 counties.6

Six counties—most notably Orange County, Fla. (where Orlando is located)—attained majority-minority status between 2007 and 2008.7 Another 217 counties have reached the “tipping point” and are likely to become majority minority in the next few years: Between 40 percent and 50 percent of the population in those counties are minorities.

Majority-minority counties come in all types—from large counties in major metropolitan areas (such as the Bronx in New York City) to small, rural counties (such as Todd County in South Dakota). These counties are highly concentrated in certain parts of the country (see map 1)—in particular, the Southeast, the Southwest (especially along the Mexican border), central and Southern California, parts of the rural Great Plains, most of Alaska, and Hawaii.

In most majority-minority counties, a single minority group makes up more than 50 percent of the county population. But different minority groups are predominant in different areas of the country. For example, African Americans are the largest ethnic group in most of majority-minority counties in the Southeast. Majority Hispanic counties are mainly in the Southwest, southern Florida, and parts of California. American Indians are the majority in several counties in Alaska, the Great Plains, and Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah—many of which house American Indian reservations and trust lands. In other cases, the combination of two or more minority groups creates a majority-minority county. In 118 of the 309 majority-minority counties, no single minority group was a numerical majority.

Youth Lead U.S. Racial/Ethnic Changes

Children and youth have long been at the forefront of the country’s increasing racial and ethnic diversity. By looking at the racial and ethnic composition of youth, we get a glimpse of what the U.S. working-age population might look like in 20 years if current trends continue. In 2008, 43 percent of people under age 20 were racial and ethnic minorities, and there were 505 counties—about one in six counties nationwide—where minorities made up at least 50 percent of the youth population. An additional 286 counties had minority youth populations between 40 percent and 50 percent, meaning that minority youth make up at least 40 percent of the under-20 population in one in four counties (see map 2).

Mark Mather is associate vice president of Domestic Programs at PRB. Kelvin Pollard is senior demographer at PRB.


  1. The growth in the Latino and Asian base populations partly explains the declining growth rate for both groups. A steady, incremental change in population will yield a smaller percent change as the base grows over time.
  2. Migration Policy Institute, MPI Data Hub, accessed online at, on May 11, 2009.
  3. Mark Mather, “Children in Immigrant Families Chart New Path,” PRB Reports on America (Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2009): 2-3.
  4. Mather, “Children in Immigrant Families Chart New Path“: 12.
  5. Minorities include blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and people of mixed race.
  6. Webster County, in southwestern Georgia, was majority-minority in 2007, but lost that status in 2008.
  7. The other five counties were Stanislaus County, Calif.; Finney County, Kan.; Warren County, Miss.; and two Texas counties—Edwards and Schleicher.