WASHINGTON -- The population surge that has made Hispanics America's largest minority shows no sign of slowing in the next 20 years, according to a study released Tuesday by a Latino research group.
The Pew Hispanic Center found that much of the growth will be from children born to parents who arrived during the immigration wave that began in the 1980s. Because they are native-born, many of those youngsters will have an easier time than their parents, freed of language barriers that made it harder to find work and fully assimilate into American society.
"There's much less adaptation for them," said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center. Besides speaking English, many native-born children will be better educated than their immigrant parents, he said.
The Hispanic population is expected to grow from 35.3 million in 2000, or about 13 percent of all U.S. residents, to about 60.4 million in 2020, or 18 percent, according to the Pew analysis. That means the Latino population would grow by about 1.2 million a year through 2020.
Almost half the Latino growth during the next two decades is expected to come from second-generation Hispanics, those born in the United States of at least one foreign-born parent, and 25 percent will be immigrants. That reverses the trend between 1970 and 2000, when immigrants accounted for nearly half the growth.
The aging of the second generation is expected to help boost the number of Latinos in the labor market by 12.6 million between 2000 and 2020, 1 million more than growth forecast for the rest of the labor force.
The increased presence in the work force could boost Hispanics as a voting bloc, as more of their population becomes taxpaying, voting-age citizens, said Larry Gonzalez, director of the Washington office of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Educational Fund.
Political clout could also rise if educational and income levels were to go up among second generation Hispanics, as has been the case in previous immigrant waves. For instance, earning more money could help more Latinos own homes, and generally homeowners, in turn, tend to be more active politically, Gonzalez said.
However, according to Suro, the key to measuring the progress of second-generation Latinos lies in how their standing compares with other native-born Americans. Traditionally, they have trailed.
Recent Census Bureau statistics showed that 11 percent of Hispanics are college graduates, a record high although still significantly lower than whites (29 percent) or blacks (17 percent).
Suro said some of that disparity can be narrowed by giving more help to children at younger ages, such as reaching out to those parents who don't speak English as well to get involved more in their child's schooling, or hiring bilingual teachers to help kids who may speak little English at home.
The projections for Pew were done by Jeffrey Passel, a demographer with the Urban Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank. Passel said his forecast was based on the premise there will be a slight slowdown in immigration from Latino countries.
Many recent immigrants have brought relatives to the United States, thereby reducing the pool of potential future immigrants, he said. Passel also cited recent studies that show women in Mexico, the country that now sends the largest number of immigrants to the United States, are starting to have fewer children.
In the United States, immigrant Hispanic women have higher birth rates than almost any other group.
The study also cited a previous Pew survey found that 72 percent of immigrant Latinos rely primarily on Spanish, compared with only 7 percent of second-generation Hispanics.
Previous research by Passel, also cited in the report, found that 8 percent of foreign-born Hispanics marry outside their race or ethnicity, compared with one-third of second-generation Latinos.
Those rates mirror trends seen in previous immigrant waves and are signs that children of foreign-born Hispanics are assimilating socially, said University of Michigan demographer William Frey.
On the Net:
Pew Hispanic Center: http://www.pewhispanic.org/index.jsp