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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

More now on today's report from the Census Bureau on Hispanic population growth. Joining us is Jeffrey Passel, who is a demographer and a senior research associate at the Pew Hispanic Center.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. JEFFREY PASSEL (Demographer; Senior Research Associate, Pew Hispanic Center): Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: What's remarkable to you in this Census Bureau report, which tells us that the Hispanic population is now about 41.3 million people, or 14.1 percent of the population?

Mr. PASSEL: Well, it's really rather steady growth of this population over a long run. It's been growing rapidly for the last 20, 25 years. This report shows us, though, a change; that for the first time since the 1960s, there are more Hispanic births than Hispanic immigrants.

SIEGEL: Is that because the birth rates among Hispanic immigrants in the US are very high, or other Hispanics, or is it because immigration is slowing?

Mr. PASSEL: Well, it's a combination of factors. The birth rates are high. They're not extraordinarily high. They're lower than they were overall in the baby boom of the 1950s, for example. But they are higher than other groups. But, also, it's the youth of the population; that there's a big concentration of Hispanic women in their 20s and 30s. So even moderately high levels of fertility translates into large numbers of births.

SIEGEL: I want you to give us some idea of how much younger the Hispanic population of America is than the rest of the population in America.

Mr. PASSEL: Well, there's a couple of different ways you can look at it. The median age is about 10 years less than the white population. Thirty-four percent of Hispanics are under age 18 vs. 23 percent of the white non-Hispanic population. So it's quite a large difference.

SIEGEL: And if we look at the other end of the scale, say over 65, again, a much smaller share of Hispanics?

Mr. PASSEL: Much smaller share, and 5 percent of Hispanics are over 65 vs. about 14 percent of white non-Hispanics. The other way to look at it is, as you said, 14.1 percent of the population is Hispanic, but if you look at the kids under five, it's 22 percent.

SIEGEL: And we should assume then that if present trends continue, the share of the population that's Hispanic would increase.

Mr. PASSEL: The share will increase. Each younger age groups is more heavily Hispanic than the one that's a bit older. And one of the things about demography is that we can say with a fair amount of certainty that five years from now, almost all these people will be five years older. So...

SIEGEL: (Laughs) Now when we look at a population growth due to births in the US, as opposed to migration, there's one obvious difference, which is migrants include those who come here legally and who don't have legal papers. If you're born here, you're a citizen of the United States.

Mr. PASSEL: You're a citizen in the United States, regardless of whether your parents were here legally or not.

SIEGEL: So the population of people here who are properly documented, counting a birth certificate as a document, the share would be going up (unintelligible).

Mr. PASSEL: The share is going to be increasing rather steadily if we look 20 or 40 years out into the future.

SIEGEL: What do various metrics tell you about how successfully Hispanic immigrant populations are assimilating into American life?

Mr. PASSEL: Well, there's several different aspects to think of here, and one of the important ones is not the immigrants themselves but their children. The children grow up in the US and speak English, for example. But if we look at Hispanic immigrants who've been in the country for 10, 15, 20 years or more, we see that they are a bit different from the recently arrived immigrants. They're much more likely to speak English. They're much more likely to own their own homes. And their incomes tend to be higher the longer they've been here.

SIEGEL: So that implies some success story about staying here for a while.

Mr. PASSEL: Yes. The longer they're here, the better they tend to do. Hispanics, as a group, start with fairly low levels of education and work in fairly low-wage occupations overall. So even though they've progressed after being in the US, they still are somewhat behind the rest of the population.

SIEGEL: The number of children, you said--if we look at youngsters in the country, the share that is Hispanic will be up above 20 percent?

Mr. PASSEL: The under-five population right now is 22 percent.

SIEGEL: That suggests that for primary education through much of the United States, if not all of it, the issue of teaching kids whose home language is Spanish perhaps is enormous. It's a huge challenge.

Mr. PASSEL: It is. One of the trends in the last decade is that there's been a fairly sizable movement of Hispanics or growth of Hispanics outside of the traditional core Hispanic areas, faster growth rates in the Southeast, in North Carolina, in Georgia; in the Midwest, in Iowa. And in those areas, it's often very hard to find enough adults with the credentials and the training to provide the language instruction. It's a problem that doesn't really exist in California or Florida or in New York.

Well, Jeffrey Passel, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. PASSEL: Well, you're very welcome.

SIEGEL: Jeffrey Passel, who is a senior research associate, a demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, talking about today's report from the Census Bureau on the growth of the Hispanic population in the United States.

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