Latinos Account for Majority of Births in California
By Lisa Richardson and Robin Fields
Times Staff Writers
For the first time since the 19th century, Latinos now account for a
majority of births in California, a long-expected, yet still telling milestone
in the state's
Latinos make up about 30% of the state's population. But according to
a new analysis of birth certificates by UCLA scholars, Latino babies accounted
for more than
half of all California births beginning in the third quarter of 2001, at 50.2%. In the fourth quarter of that year, the rate edged up to 50.6%.
According to information filled in by new parents on birth certificates,
30.4% of babies born in the final quarter of 2001 were white, 11.7% were
Asian or Pacific
Islander, and 6.1% were black.
UCLA professor David Hayes-Bautista, who led the study, said Wednesday that it is time to stop thinking of Latinos as an emerging majority.
"It has arrived. It arrived in the delivery rooms of the state 18 months ago," he said.
Hayes-Bautista's numbers add to a cascade of population data that together could signal a permanent change in the nation's racial dynamic.
The 2000 census found that Latino communities had surged beyond their
traditional strongholds in the 1990s, reaching into the Midwest and the
Nationally, census figures show the Latino population had reached about
37 million as of January, making Latinos — arguably, at least — the nation's
minority. (The number of African Americans is larger when people of mixed race are counted.)
In California, however, Latinos have long been the largest minority group.
"We're seeing the inevitable demographic trend," said Harry Pachon of
the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute. "This is a demographic iceberg slowly
moving through the
California social structure."
Based on birthrates, Latinos will constitute the majority of children
entering California kindergartens in the fall of 2006; the majority entering
high school in 2014; the
majority of workers entering the labor force in 2017; and the majority of young adults eligible to vote by 2019.
The birth data make official what other statistics have already hinted at: Jose became the most popular name for boys in California several years ago.
"This has happened gradually," said Lisa Navarrete, spokeswoman for
the National Council of La Raza. "It isn't like you walked out of your
house one day and said,
'Whoa! Look at all these Latinos!' "
The Latino majority in births is due partly to declines in birthrates
for other groups, not a spike in babies born to Latinos. The birthrate
for all racial and ethnic groups
has been declining since the early 1990s.
Not all California communities are experiencing the demographic shift.
Sparsely populated Sierra County, for example, had no Latino births in
the last six months of
2001 — and just seven births overall.
But in Imperial County, which borders Mexico, almost 90% of the 1,431 babies born in that period were Latinos.
In Southern California, Latino births constituted about 63% of all births
in Los Angeles County and 50% in Orange County. In San Francisco, where
population is older and less Latino, less than one-quarter of babies were Latino.
Since 1980, the census has treated Latino ethnicity apart from race,
asking about it in a separate question and indicating that Latinos can
be of any race. In the 2000
head count, about 50% of Latinos checked the box for white, but almost as many picked "other."
Whether Latinos primarily continue to define themselves as a distinct
minority group or follow the pattern of past immigrant groups and assimilate
steadily into the
broader population will help determine the course of American racial politics, many scholars believe.
"The future of race in the U.S. is now primarily a Latino issue," said
Ian Haney Lopez, a UC Berkeley law professor. "Where do Latinos fit? Where
do they want to
"One way to look at what this means is to say that if every group thinks
of itself as having a separate identity and thinks of 'us versus them,'
then you can envision
employment discrimination and an assertion of entitlement," said Peter Morrison, a demographer at Rand Corp. in Santa Monica.
But more likely, he said, is that "being Hispanic will become so commonplace
it really won't matter all that much — like living in New York or Boston
60 years ago
when people were distinctly Irish or Italian. But after several decades it just felt like your neighbor was descended from Western or Eastern Europeans, that's all. It
won't be a remarkable statistic."
Others see more of a potential for conflict. Haney Lopez worries that California's white voting majority may react fearfully to Latinos' political advance.
"There may be a backlash," he said. "Will there be a move to take money
away from schools and social services? Clearly, the white community will
not respond as a
monolith — some will see these numbers as a nonevent, others as a source of panic."
Latino political power is likely to lag the size of the Latino population for years. Among those Latinos who are registered to vote, turnout is comparatively high.
But because Latinos are younger on average than the rest of the population
and because many Latinos are not citizens, they remain a distinct minority
In the 2000 Los Angeles mayoral election, for example, among a population of 1.1 million adult Latinos, only about 130,000 voted.
Peter Skerry, a political scientist and a fellow at the Brookings Institution
in Washington, D.C., sees daunting new challenges for education, immigration
"I think this group is going to put enormous demands" on schools and other social institutions, said Skerry, author of "Mexican Americans: The Ambivalent Minority."
"How do we address this?"