National census numbers highlight racial diversity

The Associated Press
Tuesday March 13, 2001

WASHINGTON — Hispanics now rival non-Hispanic blacks as the country’s leading minority group, a phenomenon suggested by population forecasts and confirmed Monday in the first nationwide race data release from Census 2000. 

The long-awaited figures also documented explosive growth in the Asian and American Indian populations and offered the first coast-to-coast look at how many people classified themselves as member of more than one race. 

The result goes beyond the snapshots of America contained in reports last week to several individual states, and provides a more complete picture of the U.S. populace. 

University of Michigan demographer William Frey called it a “celebration of our diversity that’s always been at the core of our society.” 

The increasing presence of Hispanics “means African-Americans have a better partner” in terms of shared political and socioeconomic issues, said Dr. William Spriggs, director of the Institute for Opportunity and Equality at the National Urban League. 

“Things like improving poverty, education and urban development – these are all things that African Americans and Hispanics will have to work together at,” Spriggs said. 

The Founding Fathers foresaw the need to periodically count its people, for a variety of reasons. Beyond the information released this month on the racial and ethnic makeup of the citizenry, the information from the national headcount also will be used to redraw political boundary lines. The disbursement of $185 billion in federal funds will depend to some degree on these figures. 

Also, figures compiled on race and ethnicity are critical for enforcement of a wide array of civil rights law, including voting rights, and workplace regulations. 

The data released Monday officially documented the results of a broader set of options the Census Bureau gave people last year in which to identify themselves. 

About 2.4 percent, or 6.8 million of the country’s 281 million people, checked off more than one race. Some chose combinations such as “white” and “black”, and “white” and “Asian.” 

Meanwhile the Hispanic population skyrocketed by about 58 percent over the past decade, up from 22.4 million in 1990 to 35.3 million in 2000. The number of non-Hispanic blacks, meanwhile may have increased to as much as 21 percent from a decade ago, to 35.4 million. 

Direct comparisons on race were impossible though, since Americans in 2000 had 63 racial categories to identify with, up from five categories in 1990. Also, “Hispanic” is considered an ethnicity, not a race; people of Hispanic ethnicity can be of any race. 

Still, the Hispanic population caught up with non-Hispanic blacks faster than Census Bureau experts had predicted. One projection showed that would not happen until at least July 2002. 

Analysts attributed that to higher-than-expected rates of immigration, and a massive outreach program by the Census Bureau designed to get more immigrants – regardless of their status — counted. 

Asked to what degree the headcount accounted for immigrants who are in the country illegally, senior Census Bureau official Jorge del Pinal said the agency “make no attempt to ascertain the legal status of anybody.” 

Other national findings included: 

• The non-Hispanic Asian population surged as much as 74 percent, to 11.6 million. 

• The population of American Indians and Alaska Natives who were not Hispanic nearly doubled, up as much as 92 percent, to 3.4 million. 

• The growth rate for non-Hispanic whites, meanwhile, lagged behind, up no more than 5.3 percent, to 198.2 million. 

“Certainly within the last 40 or 50 years, there is probably more diversity now than ever before,” said del Pinal, chief of special population statistics at the Census Bureau. 

The national-level figures come at the start of a hectic period in which the Census Bureau must transmit by April 1 detailed population data to all 50 states. 

On Monday, data for Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas and Vermont were released to the public, with numbers for another 11 states scheduled to be sent to governors and state legislative leaders this week. 

Of the the 6.8 million people who identified themselves as members of more than one race, the vast majority — nearly 6.4 million — checked off just two races. The three combinations people most identified with were: “White” and “Some other race”, 2.2 million; “White” and “American Indian and Alaska Native”, 1.1 million; and “White” and “Asian,” 868,395. 

However, despite all the choices available, the overwhelming majority of the U.S. population – roughly 98 percent – reported only one race. 

Census 2000 gave people the option of choosing from one of 63 race options, including “white,” “black or African American,” “American Indian and Alaska Native,” “Asian,” “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander” and “some other race.” 

Democrats contend the data could have accounted for even more people if the actual headcount in raw numbers had been statistically adjusted to reflect traditional undercounts of minorities, the poor and children. 

The Census Bureau said there was a net national undercount of about 1.2 percent of the population, or 3.3 million people, down from 1.6 percent or 4 million people in 1990. 

Republicans opposed to census “sampling,” or adjusting the numbers, highlighted the count’s improve accuracy and insist the Constitution calls for raw numbers must be used for redistricting. 

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