DEMOGRAPHY AND DESTINY: AMERICAN HISPANICS IN THE 21ST CENTURY–IMPLICATIONS OF MINORITY TO MAJORITY SHIFTS IN SELECT GEOGRAPHIC REGIONS
As part of the process of keeping my college freshmen courses relevant and aligned with our Quality Enhancement Program (QEP), I recently added the following choice to the research topics my Freshmen students could select from. This was not a choice selected by all the students, of course, but the choice added impetus to the proposition that college students need to or ought to learn about the real world:
Demographers predict that between the years 2020 and 2040 half of the Texas population will be Hispanic, principally Mexican American. What does this prediction augur for the state of Texas? Through analysis, determine the likelihood of this prediction and determine what the state is doing to prepare for this surge in the Hispanic population. If the prediction is likely, and you determine that the state is doing nothing to prepare for that likelihood, prepare recommendations for state action to handle this demographic phenomenon. If, in your view, the prediction is not likely, then show how and why the prediction is not likely.
However, this is a question more and more of my Freshmen students select for their research paper. That may be because most of my students are Hispanics. However, many of my non-Hispanic students have been choosing this topic for their research paper as well. The topic is germane to the lives of all Texans as Steve Murdock (The Texas Challenge: Population Change and the Future of Texas, 1997), the state’s demographer, has been bruiting for some time now. According to Mur-dock’s recent data, in July of 2004, Anglos made up less than half of the Texas population. I’ve been observing this demographic trend for years. Only recently, though, have I begun to frame that demographic shift in terms of “demography and destiny.” Admittedly, less people have heeded my words than have listened to Steve Murdock. However, Murdock is quick to point out that demography is not destiny, for a variety of other economic, social and political dimensions may have as much or more to do with the determination of Texas’ future (xiii).
But he does point out that if “current patterns of the majority-minority relationship do not change the future of Texas is likely to be one of decline” (xiv), and that the “socioeconomic future of the state will be increasingly tied to the future of its minority population” (xxv). Moreover, he adds, “Clearly the future of Texas is very much tied to its rapidly growing populations, the vast majority of which are Hispanic.” He continues, “So in a very real sense Texas’s future is tied to its Hispanic population” (Guerra, 2). Murdock predicts that “sometime between 2025 and 2035 Hispanics will become the majority of all Texans” (Ibid.). Twice now since 1997 he has reduced the target year, first from 2050 to 2040, and then from 2040 to 2035. The likelihood is that that target year may be closer than many of us realize.
There’s little doubt that “the state is becoming more Hispanic” as Paul Burka wrote in The Texas Monthly (October 2002, 8). Year after year since 1848 the state has become more Hispanic. However, few Anglo Texans noticed or paid much attention to that growth, punctuated at times by heavy Mexican immigration. But Mexican immigration is not what swells the Hispanic population of the United States. It’s fertility. In the main, Hispanics have larger families than Anglos. Their mortality rates are lower. And the Anglo population is getting older. In 1999 Hispanics had a median age of 26.6 years compared to 32.4 years for Anglos.
Who are these people whose presence in the American population will have such a major force in the American future, particularly Texas? Unfortunately, many Americans tend to think of Hispanics in the United States as a loose aggregation of “immigrants” who speak only Spanish and somewhat aware that the largest number of them live in the Southwest, a fair number in the Upper Middle Atlantic states and New England with a growing group in Florida.
Five states account for almost 75% of the U.S. Hispanic population: California, 34%; Texas, 20%; Massachusetts, 9%; Florida, 7%; and Illinois, 4%. Out of a Hispanic population of 32 million (not counting Puerto Rico and an undercount) that’s almost 24 million in those five states. Per the U.S. 2000 Census count, Hispanics are in every state of the country. Five states are 15% or more Hispanic: New Mexico, 40%; California, 31%; Texas, 30%; Arizona, 22%; and Nevada, 15%. Five states with 10% or more Hispanics are Colorado, 14%; Florida, 14%; New York, 14%; New Jersey, 12%; and Illinois, 10%. Nine states and the District of Columbia are 5% or more Hispanic: Connecticut, 8%; Idaho, 7%; Utah, 7%; DC, 7%; Wyoming, 6%; Washington, 6%; Oregon, 6%; Massachusetts, 6%; Rhode island, 6%; and Kansas, 5%.
In the 20th century, the U.S. Hispanic population grew 5 times faster than the overall population. During the 1980’s, the nation’s Hispanic population grew seven times as fast as the rest of the nation’s population or more than 40% compared to 7% for the overall population. At present growth rates, the American population is expected to reach 325 million by the year 2020 and 360 million by the year 2040. Projecting the U.S. Hispanic figures per their present growth rates, they could number well over 60 million by the year 2020. That means that about 1 in 5 Americans could be Hispanic, roughly 20% of the U.S. Population. By the year 2040 some demographers predict that the U.S. Hispanic population will triple so that 1 out of 4 Americans could be Hispanic, about 90 million (Hispanic Americans Today, Bureau of the Census, 2001).
In Texas, Hispanics are principally Mexican Americans, growing, first, out of the initial cluster of Mexicans who came with the territory wrested from Mexico during the U.S. War against Mexico, 1846-1848. While there was a steady trickle of immigration from Mexico to the United States after 1848, the “conquest generation” of Mexicans cum Mexican Americans was not significantly augmented until the Mexican Civil War erupted in 1913, an internecine struggle that lasted until 1921. Between 1912 and 1930 more than a million and a half Mexicans migrated north from Mexico into the United States fleeing the revolutionary turmoil of Mexico, a migration Ernesto Galarza, the Mexican American scholar, described as one of the greatest migrations in human history. The third group to augment the Conquest Generation were Braceros (laborers) who came to the United States as “contract” workers between 1941 and 1964. Essentially, the progeny of these three strands comprise the Mexican American population of Texas (and of the United States). In Texas they are called Tejanos.
In Texas, the Hispanic population surge will be considerably more dramatic. Per the 2000 Census count, there were 20.8 million Texans, 32% of whom were Hispanics, about 6.6 million. Anglos were just a little over half of the state’s population. By the year 2035 Murdock predicts there will be 30 million new Texans, increasing the state’s population to 50.5 million. The state’s population that year will be 24% Anglo and 59% Hispanic–3 out of 5 Texans will be Hispanic. That’s a dramatic contrast to the country’s projection of 1 out of 4. In other words, almost 60% of the Texas population will be Hispanic compared to 25% of the nation’s population. Texas (and perhaps California) would be the two most heavily Hispanic populated states in the country. Currently, the United States has the 5th largest Hispanic population in the world exceeded only by Mexico, Spain, Columbia, and Argentina. In 10 years only Mexico will have a larger Hispanic population.
Presaging the current demographic surge in Texas, a 1988 study in the Arizona Republic of Phoenix indicated that in the year 2013 “Hispanics will make up nearly half of Arizona’s population compared with 16% today, raising the prospect of their taking a strong leadership role in the state.” What made that population growth of American Hispanics in Arizona so significant was that there seemed to be little state planning for such an eventuality. Almost 20 years later Arizona has made little headway for the demographic event it will intersect in just 7 years. In like fashion, it is appropriate to ask what plans the state of Texas is developing for the demographic projections it will encounter in the years 2020, 2030, and 2035.
What are some of the considerations engendered by the projected demographic evolution of Texas? In Forces of Change: Shaping the Future of Texas, (1994), John Sharp, former State Comptroller, posited a matrix of those considerations, following up with Bordering the Future (1998) emphasizing growth with prosperity. An increase of 30 million more Texans to the state’s population does not beg the Malthusian question of population growth outstripping its food resources but it does raise the question of where these new Texans will live and the corollary of what kind of housing will be needed to accommodate this increase. How will this increase stress the already stressed state educational system? What about health and human services? Transportation? Jobs? The environment? And how will this population increase affect state politics, especially when Hispanics will constitute almost 60% of the population of the state? Then there are questions about finite resources like water, power, and gas. Will these resources be sufficient for that size population? And what about the infrastructure, particularly as it impinges on pollution and crime? This is a daunting matrix of considerations. And how will the prosperity of Texans fare as a consequence of this dramatic population surge? Murdock and Sharp posit a dire future if the state does not now begin preparing for the projected demographic boom and shift. More importantly, however, what are Texas Hispanics doing to prepare for this future that places them in the majority status of the state?
POPULATION CENTERS AND HOUSING
Currently, the state’s most populated area is a triangle bounded by Dallas-Forth Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. But South Texas, bounded by the cities of Corpus Christi, Laredo, and Brownsville, has experienced more rapid growth than any other area of the state. A lesser, though not insignificant, population triangle is bounded by the cities of Eagle Pass, Amarillo, and El Paso. The rest of the state is pretty much rural, ranching, and farming.
It’s understood that a population surge is more likely to occur where the jobs are. That means the projected population growth in Texas is more likely to occur in the aforementioned population triangles, and equally likely in the major cities of those triangles. That population growth is not principally the result of human ingress from outside the state but from Tejanos who are already abandoning small-town Texas and the rural enclaves along the U.S.–Mexico border. The shift of Tejanos from rural settings to urban centers that began soon after World War II has reached its crescendo in the present, and will continue, affecting the population profile of rural Texas.
What will that population growth do to already burgeoning metroplexes like Dallas, Forth Worth, Houston, Austin, San Antonio? More than likely it will increase urban sprawl, exacerbating the commuter crunch. Inner city housing in many of these metroplexes has reached capacity and “affordable housing” is not always available. Where are Tejanos in this mix?
We can see that transportation and housing are inextricably linked. More people in the workforce means more conveyances of transport, ergo more potential gridlock and pollution, unless by then there are more fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly means of transport. An obvious solution to the problem of increased road traffic is a system of public transportation like buses or subways where feasible. But the reality of these solutions requires planning now for those exigencies. An optimistic expectation in resolving the transportation question would be a paradigm shift that would decentralize work from traditional settings to suburban settings. A critical question looms about the economic status of Hispanics in Texas by the year 2040. Will Hispanics be a sufficiently affluent group to afford commuting to work or will it be a marginalized group subsisting on minimum wages and working at jobs of last resort? This scenario 34 years from now seems far-fetched, but consider the current Texas demographics. As 36% of the state’s population, Tejanos are still a “powerless” minority. Will that status change when their numbers in the Texas population almost doubles?
Long touted as the key to economic progress, the education of Hispanic Texans (principally Mexican Americans) has been a struggle mired in the courts. That Tejanos will be the majority group in the Texas population seems not to have raised any flags on the part of the dominant members of the Texas legislature. Per the 1960 Census data, Mexican Americans in Texas had attained an average of only 3.5 years of schooling (Cf. “Montezuma’s Children, The Center Magazine, November/December 1970). That figure has improved significantly in the last 40 years. The 2000 Census reported Mexican Americans in Texas with an average of 8.9 years of schooling, considerably less than the almost 12 years of school achieved by Anglos. In 1960 the highschool dropout rate for Mexican Americans in Texas hovered just at 75%. Today slightly more than half of Mexican American students in Texas public schools graduate. This portends a state workforce in which Mexican Americans are disproportionately under-educated and less likely to be in professional career ladders proportionate to their numbers in the state population. In many instances, Mexican Americans in Texas lose what little ground they’ve gained in civil rights by litigation that questions their progress as a group–specifically in affirmative action suits that claim reverse discrimination.
JOBS AND THE WORKFORCE
Hispanics are usually clumped at the bottom of the workforce pyramid. Their numbers in the professional workforce reflect an imbalance disproportionate to their numbers in the national population.
In Texas the figures are not much better.
The facts of history point to Hispanics in the agricultural, ranching, and mining activities of the American Southwest as extensions of activities carried out previously under Spanish and Mexican auspices. The most famous activity of Hispanics in the mining industry was the strike at the Santa Rita mine in Silver City, New Mexico which was made into the film Salt of the Earth.
Hispanic workers were an essential workforce in laying the railroad tracks of the United States west of the Mississippi all the way to California; and later maintaining those of the Midwest and points east as far as Johnstown, Pennsylvania (my father was a railroader). The copper mines of Arizona were dug by American Hispanics and heir kinsmen from Mexico.
From the start of the industrial movement in the United States, thousands of American Hispanics forged the products of the iron and steel mills of the country; just as they have stamped out the products of the garment industry in the Southwest. In 1905, Lucy Gonzalez, widow of Albert Patrsons of the Haymarket Riots, was a founder of the Industrial Workers of the World—the Wobblies. In 1903 Mexican Americans struck with the United Mine Workers against the Texas and Pacific Coal Company; and in 1913 Mexican American clerks in El Paso organized the International Clerk’s Protective Association. In 1938, Emma Tenayuca was instrumental in the Pecan Shellers Strike of San Antonio, Texas.
In recent times, Cesar Chavez has effectively organized the United Farm Workers Union to bring national attention to the plight of the farm workers in this country. In addition, Jack Otero, as LCLAA National President has brought national attention to the issues of Hispanics in the labor movement to national attention. We are indebted to these labor leaders and to all the Hispanic men and women in the American labor movement for the contributions they have made to our country.
There is much bruited about the unscrupulous methods and tactics of American labor unions in recruiting and retaining union membership. Much is made of union corruption. Without diminishing the faults of the American labor movement, the American labor movement merits the plaudits of all American workers for championing the protection of all American workers. Until the rise of the American labor movement American workers were treated as little more than chattel by industrial and manufacturing interests of the country. Wherever one works today in the United States, as a worker one is protected by Fair Labor Standards. Minimum wage laws protect workers from exploitation. Hispanics have been a part of all this. This is why Jobs and the Workforce is a crucial consideration for Tejanos specifically and Latinos in general in deliberating Demography and Destiny. A panoply of considerations looms in preparing for the expectations of the demographic surge of Hispanics in Texas, considerations of health and human services, environment, politics and resources. A. Water. B. Power, C. Gas Infrastructure, D. Pollution. E. Crimes and Prison.
The surge in Hispanic population in Texas is not due to immigration though it is a factor. The surge is due principally to fertility and motility. It is not a growth due to externalities but to a latent historic population with deep roots in the state. For example, a branch of my mother’s family settled in Texas in 1731 as part of the 16 families from the Canary Islands with a patent from the King of Spain to establish the settlement which has become San Antonio, originally La Villita.
In the 100 years from 1731 to 1831 the city of San Antonio throve, becoming one of the major population centers of the Spanish Southwest (at the time, the northern reaches of New Spain), remaining one of the major population hubs during the Republic of Texas, continuing into the 21sr century. Demography is density. .
Burka, Paul. 2002. “Our Number is Up,” The Texas Monthly, October.
Guerra, Francisco. 2006. “Murdock’s Texas Sized Prediction,” Island Waves (Student Publication of Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi), February 23.
Hispanic Americans Today. 2001. Bureau of the Census.
Murdock, Steven, et al. 1997. The Texas Challenge: Population Change and the Future of Texas. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.
Sharp, John. 1994. Forces of Change: Shaping the Future of Texas. Austin: State of Texas.
__________ 1998. Bordering the Future. Austin: State of Texas.
Copyright 2006 by Felipe de Ortego. This paper was prepared and presented at the University Forum on Public Policy, Western New Mexico University, October 12, 2007. Photos of street scene and workers at construction site copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions, Inc. All other photos in the public domain.