WASHINGTON (AP) — Hispanics now outnumber African-Americans for the first time in most U.S. metropolitan areas, shifting the political and racial dynamics in cities once dominated by whites and blacks.
Census figures released Thursday highlight the growing diversity of the 366 U.S. metro areas, which were home to a record share of 83.7 percent of the U.S. population. The numbers from the 2010 count already are influencing redistricting maps in many states, where political maps are being redrawn based on population size and racial makeup.
The number of a state’s members in the U.S. House of Representatives is determined by its population. States delineate their own districts, often taking ethnic voting blocs into consideration.
Hispanics became the largest minority group in 191 metropolitan areas last year, their population lifted higher as blacks headed south, leaving many economically hard-hit cities in the North, and new Latino immigrants spread to different parts of the country. That is up from 159 metro areas when the previous Census was taken in 2000, when Hispanics were most commonly found in Southwest border states.
The new metro areas include Chicago, Illinois; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Atlantic City, New Jersey, whose states will lose U.S. House seats in the 2012 elections because of overall population changes. Other places seeing rapid Hispanic gains compared to blacks were Lakeland, Florida; Madison, Wisconsin; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Omaha, Nebraska, due to the mid-decade housing boom, which attracted many new immigrants seeking work in the construction and service industries.
The Census Bureau reported last month that overall Hispanic population jumped 42 percent in the past decade to 50.5 million, or 1 in 6 Americans. Blacks increased a modest 11 percent to 37.7 million, with declines particularly evident in big cities such as New York; Detroit, Michigan; Cleveland, Ohio; and St. Louis, Missouri.
“A greater Hispanic presence is now evident in all parts of the country — in large and small metropolitan areas, in the Snowbelt (northern states) and in the Sunbelt (southern states),” said William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution who analyzed the census data. “From now on, local, state and national politicians will need to pay attention to Hispanics rather than treating blacks as the major minority.”
The political effects have been immediate. Analysts and black groups, including some members of the Congressional Black Caucus themselves, are acknowledging the possibility of fewer black-majority House districts, even as they fight to preserve if not expand their gains. That is because of slowing African-American growth in big cities and broader black movement over the past decade into once-white suburbs.
The Congressional Black Caucus currently has 43 members, mostly Democrats. Last November, blacks had a net gain of two seats in the House, including Republicans Allen West of Florida, who is a caucus member, and Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is not.
Republicans generally hold the advantage in redrawing the political maps after taking control of legislatures in many states in last November’s elections. But many black legislators are pushing for strong enforcement of the federal Voting Rights Act from the Obama Justice Department, which must pre-approve political maps for several states and ensure the minority vote is not overly weakened.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.