A new national survey shows the Latino population in the U.S. rose 47 percent from 2000 to 2011, but that’s not as much as it rose in Hall County (69 percent) or in Georgia (102 percent).
The Pew Research Hispanic Center in Washington, a demographic research institute, this week released a report that shows the Latino population in the U.S. during those 11 years swelled from 35.2 million to 51.9 million.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos made up 25.9 percent of Hall County’s total population in 2011, surging to about 46,000 from 27,000 in 2000. Nationwide, Latinos made up 16.7 percent of the population in 2011.
High birth rates and continued migration mean that percentage likely will increase, demographic experts said. Doug Bachtel, a demographer at the University of Georgia, cited both cultural and economic factors.
“Because of the religion (many Latinos are Catholic), and because women with lower education tend to have higher birth rates, the population will grow significantly through the natural increase of coming here to have children,” he said.
Of all births in the U.S. in 2011, 23.1 percent were to Latino women.
The growth in that population has recently begun having a noticeable effect on U.S. politics.
Democratic President Barack Obama earned 71 percent of the Latino vote in last November’s election, a key factor in his victory over Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Republicans’ hard-line position against the legalization of undocumented residents cost them many Latino votes, experts believe. Since the election, GOP members of Congress have begun negotiations on a comprehensive immigration overhaul to create a legal status for such residents.
From 2007 to 2012, the number of registered Latino voters in Hall County ages 18 to 24 increased nearly tenfold, to 1,216 from 123.
By far the largest Latino segment in the U.S. is people of Mexican descent, with 33.5 million, or 64.5 percent of all Latinos.
In Hall County, nearly 80 percent of Latinos are of Mexican descent.
“The U.S. is in tough economic times, but Mexico is in worse economic times. There are areas of deep, deep poverty in Mexico,” Bachtel said. “Migrants are looking for a better life for their kids. They really are go-getters, willing to work long hours, hard jobs and they take jobs a lot of Americans don’t want.”
Many people of Mexican descent come from families that have lived in the U.S. for many generations. Two-thirds of them were born here.
Nationwide, Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens from birth, number 4.9 million; Salvadorans, 1.95 million; Cubans, 1.88 million; and Guatemalans, 1.22 million.
Not only did the number of Latinos in the U.S. population increase, but the percentage who are U.S.-born increased to 63.8 percent from 59.9 percent. Latinos have the lowest median age of any population group, 27, compared to 33 for blacks, 36 for Asians and 42 for whites.
Georgia has the 10th highest total of Latinos at 879,858, about 9 percent of the state’s population, according to the Pew study.
The survey shows educational levels of Latinos rose over the 11 years studied. The high school dropout rate among Latinos ages 16 to 19 plummeted from 17.5 percent in 2000 to 6.8 percent in 2011. The percentage of Latinos ages 18 to 24 enrolled in college rose sharply, from 20 percent to 32.9 percent, in the 11 years.
“If history is a judge, significant numbers of groups have seen this is a land of opportunity, and then really make it: Italian, German, European and Asian,” Bachtel said, noting that Asians boast many of the best social and economic indicators in the U.S.
Nationwide, the median income of a Latino household in 2011 was $39,000. That compared to $67,000 for Asian households, $54,400 for whites and $32,600 for blacks. Some 13 million Latinos live in poverty, 25.9 percent, and 22 percent receive food stamps. Only blacks have higher rates in those categories, with 27.9 percent living in poverty and 28 percent receiving food stamps.
And Latinos have by far the highest percentage of people without health insurance, 30 percent. That compares to 10.8 percent for whites, 15.4 percent for Asians and 18.6 percent for blacks.
The 2011 numbers are based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, which surveyed 3 percent of the households and extrapolated total numbers from those interviews. The households were contacted during 2011 and the numbers were compiled over the past year. The 2000 numbers were based on the census from that year.
The Pew center says its figures include undocumented people. There are thought to be 11 million to 12 million undocumented people in the U.S., 80 percent of whom are Latino.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.