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Where Latinos Live Now

A new analysis by the Pew Research Center takes a deep dive into the changing geography of this much-discussed segment of the U.S. population.

America’s Hispanic population has grown dramatically: In 1990, Latinos comprised 8.8 percent of the U.S. population; by 2010, that figure had swelled to 16.4 percent. As they fanned out across the country, these newcomers have changed the economic and political landscape. But a comprehensive new analysis of the Census data by the Pew Research Center finds that a slowdown in immigration from Latin America—particularly from Mexico—plus a drop in Hispanic birth rates after the Great Recession has tempered the settlement trends of past decades. (Both the Census and Pew use the terms Latino and Hispanic interchangeably.)

Below are some major highlights from the report:

Latino dispersion is slowing down

In the 1990s and 2000s, jobs and affordable living attracted Latino immigrants to cities and towns that weren’t traditional immigrant gateways: Newcomers often bypassed New York City and L.A. and settled in metros like Charlotte, New Orleans, and Atlanta, where demand for agriculture, construction, and manufacturing labor was growing.

Pew’s analysis shows that the economic downturn impeded the influx to these new destinations. Between 2007 and 2014, the share of U.S. counties with at least 1,000 Latino residents rose by only 4 percent points (from 46 to 50 percent), which is only half of the gain between 2000 and 2007 (8 percent points, from 38 to 46 percent).

Below is Pew’s map showing the concentration of Latinos in all U.S. counties in 2014. The darker the color, the higher the number there:

In the post-recession years, Latino growth in counties with relatively large Hispanic populations (10,000-plus) has also slackened; in general, Latinos were slightly more evenly distributed across counties in 2014 than they were in the pre-recession years. On one hand, that’s a good thing—it means that this group is making inroads into new cultural, economic, and political arenas around the U.S. On the other, it means that that their political influence isn’t growing as robustly in Latino-heavy areas as it was before.

Another finding is that the 1,500-plus counties that don’t yet have a critical mass of Latinos tend to be less populous overall, with a median of just 13,000 residents. “In the coming years, while some Latinos may move there, it is possible that the slowdown in dispersion will continue,” the report reads.

The fastest-growing counties are in North Dakota

Counties with rapidly increasing Latino populations (defined as those with a higher Hispanic growth rate than the national median) have also been reshuffled since 2007. From the report:

Overall, these counties have several characteristics in common – most are in the South, are part of metropolitan areas and have largely U.S.-born Latino populations.

But while counties in the South still account for the largest share of the national Latino growth, that has decreased slightly from 44 to 43 percent post-2007.

Southern counties are also no longer among the fastest growing ones. In the post-recession years, three counties in North Dakota occupy the top spots in the list of fastest-growing counties. “The Hispanic population in each of these three counties (Williams, Stark and Ward) more than doubled since 2007, though in each case, these populations started from a small base,” the report reads. Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, has inched higher up this list from the preceding seven-year period; Duchesne County, Utah, and Beadle County, South Dakota, are new additions.

It’s not surprising that Latinos (and non-Latinos) have been flocking to these places in recent years: To a large extent, that’s where the jobs were. Until recently, North Dakota has enjoyed a massive oil boom. Utah, too, has a similar story, while South Dakota and Pennsylvania have significant food-processing industries.  

Of the 38 counties that have bled out their Latino populations in recent years, half are in Western states. Texas stands out with ten such counties, including one in the El Paso metro.

Here’s Pew’s map of the counties that saw fast, slow, and negative growth in their Hispanic population between 2007 and 2014:

Where Latinos fueled population growth

In 41 percent of counties with at least 1,000 Latinos, at least half of the population growth since 2000 has been driven by Hispanics. One-third of these 524 counties are along the Southwest border, and half lie outside metro areas. For context: Latinos contributed over 54 percent of the total U.S. population increase between 2000 and 2014. So county-level growth “matched or exceeded the Hispanic share of population growth nationwide,” the report reads.

Here’s a map showing where Latino growth has contribute significantly to the overall population:

Does this deceleration of the growth of Latino America alter the much-discussed projection for when people of color comprise the majority of the U.S. population? Not really—those demographic forces were put into play decades ago, and the continuing growth of the Asian (and Hispanic) population will keep the country on track to hit that milestone at some point in the mid-2040s.

Check out Pew’s interactive state and metro maps showing the changes in the Latino population nationwide.  

About the Author

  • Tanvi Misra
    Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering demographics, inequality, and urban culture. She previously contributed to NPR's Code Switch blog and BBC's online news magazine.