Latinos Fuel U.S. Population Growth

New figures from the Census Bureau show that Hispanics accounted for about half the population growth in the U.S. last year. Births have now overtaken immigration this decade as the largest source of Hispanic growth. One region where the trend is well illustrated is Cook County, including Chicago.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Today's report from the Census Bureau shows that Hispanics accounted for half of the US population growth from 2003 to 2004.

SIEGEL: Here are some of the numbers. The population of the United States, as of last July, was estimated to be 293,655,404.

BLOCK: 14.1 percent of that total, 41.3 million, are Hispanic.

SIEGEL: For the first time in many years, Hispanic population growth has more to do with births in the United States than with immigration.

BLOCK: We'll hear more about those numbers from a demographer in a few minutes. First to Chicago, where the Spanish population is growing fast. In fact, there are now more Hispanics in Cook County, Illinois, than in Arizona or Colorado or New Mexico. Here's NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER reporting:

As they wait for the bell to ring and school to begin, a group of boys on the playground of Pierce Elementary School is playing marbles. That's right, marbles. Back when marbles was first popular as a playground game, this Chicago neighborhood school served mostly Swedish immigrant families. Now there's hardly a towhead in sight. Most Pierce students are now Latino. One of the parents waiting with a kindergartner is Lorenzo Barra(ph), who came to Chicago from Mexico City when he was 18 in search of better job opportunities.

Mr. LORENZO BARRA: I mean, the first time when I came here, wash dishes was the only way you can do here 'cause you don't know any English. You know, it's hard to come to another continent and not speak the language.

SCHAPER: Barra says he's had a tough time finding work, but he says he's here for good because his children, who were born in Chicago, will be better off.

Mr. BARRA: My sons have the chance to come to school here.

SCHAPER: Likewise Brenda Paiz(ph) says the promise of better opportunities drew her to Chicago from Guatemala 20 years ago.

Ms. BRENDA PAIZ: I always have a dream to come here and have a good life.

SCHAPER: Paiz says she was able to get an education, a decent job and met her husband, a Cuban immigrant, who drives a bus. She says she misses her family in Guatemala, but with two teen-agers she hopes are headed to college, Paiz isn't looking back.

Ms. PAIZ: My dream's come true because I have two kids here. They live--What?--different like I live in my country, and I think they have a better future here.

SCHAPER: About a mile away, at Children's Memorial Hospital's Uptown neighborhood clinic, pediatrician Mariana Glusman talks with the mother of one of her patients. Glusman herself was born in Argentina and raised in Mexico before emigrating with her parents to the US. One thing she's noticing in her practice is that she's seeing more and more new patients as infants born here in Chicago.

Dr. MARIANA GLUSMAN (Pediatrician): I have a lot of families that have a number of kids that don't have--you know, families that have three, four, five children. And I see that more in my Hispanic patients than I do in other cultures.

SCHAPER: Glusman says she's even seeing the babies of some of her former and current teen-age patients. Jose Viende(ph) waits with his 10-month-old baby while his wife has his two other children in for a checkup. The 22-year-old says they'll have no more children.

Mr. JOSE VIENDE: We decided to stop having kids. We have a limit. You know, I know Latinos tend to don't have limits and have as many kids, you know, as they can. But we think differently, I guess, because we're the second generation. We think more, `Can we afford to have more kids?'

SCHAPER: After all, this loan officer and his real estate agent wife already own their own home, and they want to send all three children to college. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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