Nearly 25 Percent of Children Younger Than 5 Are Latino, Census Says

By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 1, 2008

Hispanics, the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group, now account for about one in four children younger than 5 in the United States, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released today.

The increase from almost one in five in 2000 has broad implications for governments, communities and schools nationwide, suggesting that the meteoric rise in the Hispanic population that demographers forecast for mid-century will occur even sooner among younger generations.

"Hispanics have both a larger proportion of people in their child-bearing years and tend to have slightly more children," said Jeffrey S. Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center and co-author of a recent study predicting that the Latino population will double from 15 percent today to 30 percent by 2050.

"So this means that in five years, a quarter of the 5- to 9-year-olds will be Hispanic, and in 10 years a quarter of the 10- to 14-year-olds will be Hispanic. It's just going to move up through the age distribution with each successive cohort being slightly more Hispanic," Passel said.

Hispanics account for more than half of children younger than 5 in New Mexico and California, where their share of the overall state population is 44 and 36 percent, respectively. In Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado, about one-third or more of children younger than 5 are Hispanic.

The figures are less dramatic but still notable in Virginia and Maryland. In both states, Hispanics account for 11 percent of children younger than 5 -- and 7 and 6 percent of the overall population, respectively.

Although the census is not scheduled to release county-level data until later in the year, statistics compiled by Washington-area school systems indicate that the number of youngsters who are Latino is even higher in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. In Montgomery County, for instance, Hispanics make up 14 percent of residents and 22 percent of public school students. In Fairfax County, Hispanics account for 13 percent of residents and 17 percent of students.

The census figures showed a slight drop in immigration to the United States by Hispanics from July 1, 2006, to July 1, 2007, vs. the previous 12-month period. That suggests that the U.S. economic slowdown might have had some impact on immigration. For almost a decade, U.S. births have accounted for a far greater share of the growth in the Hispanic population than immigration.

Nonetheless, many researchers warn that the higher-than-average poverty rate of U.S.-born Latino children and the fact that many are raised by immigrant parents pose particular challenges to their education and integration.

"Based on what we know, many in this population may not be growing up speaking English in their homes," said Margie McHugh, co-director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. In a recent study, McHugh found that 75 percent of limited-English-proficient students in Los Angeles County elementary schools were born in the United States.

Adding to the difficulties facing such children, McHugh said, is the fact that Latinos are increasingly moving to states and counties where they have not been historically concentrated.

"Because of the accountability requirements in the No Child Left Behind law, many of these states and localities have already been thinking hard about how to serve these children," she said. "But the gap between the services they have in place and what's needed is quite large."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company