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Low Unemployment in the South Contributing to Rise In Hispanic Population

The Hispanic population is growing faster in much of the South than anywhere else in the United States. From North Carolina to Alabama, Hispanic populations have emerged in communities where just a decade ago there were relatively few people of Latin descent, according to studies conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center and Georgetown University.

The center recently released a report that explores the rapid migration of Hispanics to the southern region of the United States. The report titled, “The New Latino South,” was presented at the Immigration to New Settlement Areas conference held at the center in Washington last month.

“We are in the midst of one of the longest and largest waves of immigration in U.S. history,” said Dr. Susan Martin, executive director for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, as she explained the tremendous growth and dispersal of Latino populations in the southern region of the United States.

The Pew report focuses on six states: Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. These states registered very fast rates of Hispanic population growth between 1990 and 2000, according to the U.S. Census.

“All of these states have at least tripled their Hispanic population, some even quadrupled their Hispanic population between 1990 and 2000,” says Sonya Tafoya, a research associate for the Pew Hispanic Center.
The unemployment rates during 1990 through 2000 indicate that the prospect of work is the motivating factor that caused large numbers of young Hispanics to migrate to the South. Unemployment rates in the South during the 1990s were consistently lower than those in traditional places of settlement such as California, Florida, Texas or New York.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California reached its highest level of unemployment for the decade in 1992 with an unemployment rate of 10 percent. During that same year, the unemployment rate in North Carolina was only 5 percent. The years that followed also brought lower unemployment rates for southern states.
Unlike the Hispanic population in states like Texas, Florida or California, those who settle in the South tend to be foreign born, unmarried and speak little or no English, says Tafoya.

Currently 63 percent of these migrants are male. But as families begin to form, experts predict serious implications for the education system.
The Hispanic school-age population in the South grew by 322 percent between 1990 and 2000. In 1990 the number of Spanish-speaking children in the region with limited proficiency in English was 18,000. By 2000 that number had increased to 64,000. 

“They are typically from families that are poor and their parents have relatively low levels of educational attainment,” says Tafoya. “The needs of these students are much greater than the needs of a population you might find growing at the same rate that was English speaking.”

— By Michelle Nealy

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