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Latinos Drive U.S. Population Growth


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

From the Census Bureau today, confirmation of what many people see every day. There are more immigrants living in more places across the country. Census figures show that people born in foreign countries are an increasing part of the population in every state except one, West Virginia.

As NPR's Richard Gonzales reports, the biggest increase has been among Latinos. That group accounts for half of Americans' population growth over the past five years.


The numbers come from what the Census Bureau calls its American Community Survey. It shows how the foreign-born population is on the rise, not just in big cities, but in smaller towns across the country. In Deep South states such as Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas, the Hispanic population jumped more than 40 percent. And in Arkansas, which led the nation in Latino growth, it reached nearly 50 percent.

This past weekend in Lake Atalanta Park in Rogers, Arkansas, over 1,000 Hispanic residents from around the northwest part of the state gathered to celebrate the first anniversary of a local Spanish-language radio station.

Unidentified Announcer: (Speaking foreign language)

California-born Drusilla Ramon(ph) moved to what was then an overwhelmingly Anglo area when she was 11. That was 13 years ago. She says her father had heard there were jobs in the poultry industry and decided to seize the opportunity.

Ms. DRUSILLA RAMON (Resident, Arkansas): A lot of people are moving from bigger cities and they realized that oh, well, what I've been missing, you know? And I can raise my kids. That's one of the things my dad used to say. It was like, I didn't want to raise you guys in California because, I mean, who knows how you guys would have turned out?

GONZALES: And Marguerita Solarsano(ph), executive director of the Hispanic Women's Organization, says that a healthy local economy helps relieve tensions among the native-born Arkansans.

Ms. MARGUERITA SOLARSANO (Hispanic Women's Organization): Latinos have to learn how to work and live in this area, but at the same time the Anglo community has been very receptive, helpful. And comments from people I work with, they say, I have never seen so many fresh vegetables in supermarkets since the Latino community have moved here.

GONZALES: Demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution says the new census figures reveal what he calls a dispersal of diversity throughout the country driven mostly by jobs.

Mr. WILLIAM FREY (Brookings Institution): People know where the fast-growing parts of the United States are and even though many of these immigrants are low-skilled, people who don't even have a high school diploma, the kinds of jobs that are available in these places - in construction, in retail, in services - are the ones that are really looking for workers like this and they just connect up with each other.

GONZALES: Take, for example, 21-year-old Ephraim Petlan(ph), a salvage worker watching over his infant son in Hailey, Idaho, one of the fastest-growing states in the nation.

Petlan arrived here seven years ago, helping Idaho's Hispanic population surge nearly 30 percent. That's three times the state's overall growth rate. Petlan confesses to a dual loyalty between Mexico and the United States but with a family, a condo and a big-screen TV, there's one way in which he feels very American.

Mr. EPHRAIM PETLAN (Resident, Idaho): Like a ladder, climbing, climbing, climbing, try to not go down so you have to keep climbing up, up, up, fast as you can.

GONZALES: And Petlan says he has no trouble finding work seven days a week.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.