Does rise of Latino population spell doom for the Congressional Black Caucus?

As a result of redistricting efforts in New York, and rapid growth in Harlem’s Latino population, which is now larger than the black population, this community’s black residents may no longer have a leading voice in their district. Congressman Charles Rangel, who represents the district, was able to withstand an ethics scandal that threatened his seat. But a rising Latino population could mean the end to black power in Harlem.

Changing demographics throughout the nation, combined with retiring lawmakers and redistricting, have members of the Congressional Black Caucus concerned that they will lose long-held black seats. While much attention has been paid to gentrification and its consequences for historically African-American enclaves, there has been little discussion of the impact of the nation’s Latino population, now the largest minority group in the U.S.

According to the 2010 census, Latinos increased from 12.5 percent of the U.S. population in 2000 to 16.3 percent in 2010. Blacks only increased from 12.3 percent to 12.6 percent during the same time period. Now, 50.5 million Hispanic-Americans outnumber 38.9 million African-Americans.

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And in the New York metropolitan area, blacks, Latinos and Asians now make up a majority of the more than 19 million people in the area.

For the first time, the Hispanic poverty rate (28.2 percent) has surpassed the black rate (23.4 percent) nationwide. This turn of events is due to lower participation of immigrant groups and non-English speakers in government assistance programs. Black urban areas are emptying out and impoverished Latino groups are moving in.

According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the “ghetto” as we know it is changing from black to Hispanic. The population of 133 historically black communities fell 36 percent since 1970, while black population growth slowed down and blacks moved to new areas.

Only 7 percent of blacks live in traditional ghettos, down from 33 percent in 1970.

African-Americans are moving back to the South and out of the big cities into the predominantly white suburbs, in the dramatic fashion in which they migrated to the North from the late 1800s to the 1950s. Atlanta, for example, increased its number of black people by half a million in 10 years.

This reverse migration represents a major demographic shift: As the South’s share of African-Americans (57 percent) is at its highest point in over half a century, the five counties with the highest proportion of blacks — Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Cook (Illinois), Wayne (Michigan) and Kings (New York) — all shed black folks in the past decade.

Far more dramatic that the black reverse migration, however, is the ascendancy of Latinos across the nation, including in the South and other areas where few to none existed a few decades ago.

Of the 12 states with the largest rise in their Latino population, nine were in the South, including top-ranked South Carolina, followed by Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia. The non-Southern states are Maryland, South Dakota and Delaware. And of the 12 states with the largest number of Hispanics, the Southern state of Georgia ranks 10th, and North Carolina is 11th. California ranks first, followed by Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Arizona and other states.

Latinos became a majority in 191 of the nation’s 366 metropolitan areas, which account for 83.7 percent of the population of the U.S. In 2000—when Hispanics were more typically found in the border states of the Southwest—the group was a majority in 159 metropolitan areas.

Some of these areas include Atlantic City, New Jersey, Chicago, and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Further, Omaha, Nebraska, Oklahoma City, Lakeland, Florida and Madison Wisconsin, all experienced faster Latino growth compared to blacks. Cities with particularly sizable declines in blacks include St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland and New York.

Whites declined in all metro areas, and Asians increased in all but five.

In the city of Chicago, where blacks, whites and Hispanics are roughly equal, black and Latino mayoral candidates were rejected in favor of a white candidate — Rahm Emanuel, former White House chief of staff under Obama.

Latinos in Georgia increased from 435,000 to 850,000 in a decade. North Carolina has doubled its Latino population in the past 10 years, and 63 of the state’s 100 counties are at least 5 percent Latino.

Texas, which is a majority-minority state of 25 million people and 45 percent white, is around 38 percent Latino. The state grew 20.6 percent since 2000, adding 4.2 million new people. Latinos were responsible for 65 percent of that growth, and 95 percent of the 1 million additional children. Texas’ white population grew by only 4.2 percent, and the black population by 22 percent.

Latino growth gave Texas four additional seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, more than any other state. Latinos will receive three new seats in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and Hidalgo and Starr Counties in the Rio Grande Valley. The news came following complaints that Republican lawmakers were ignoring the Latino population and manipulating the redistricting process for political gain.

According to the census, most of California’s growth was due to Hispanics, who increased 28 percent to 14 million and achieved near population parity with whites, while Asians rose 28 percent to 14 million. Whites dropped 5.4 percent to below 15 million, and black Californians fell 1 percent to 2.2 million people. In the U.S., the Latino vote increased the most in California and Florida, with Latinos accounting for 23 percent and 34 percent of each state’s vote, respectively. Latino voters are likely have an impact in key political battleground states such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico in 2012.

At the same time, conservative Republican backlash against Hispanic growth is evident in a number of Southern states. Tough immigration laws in Georgia—with an undocumented population of about 425,000 — and Alabama — with around 125,000 undocumented immigrants and a 145 percent Latino growth rate since 2000—have scared away Latino migrant labor. Alabama farmers are now considering using prison labor to replace the Latino agricultural workers that fled following the passage of that state’s immigration legislation.

In South Carolina, which leads the nation in Latino population growth, the state’s immigration law allows police to ask the immigration status of people during routine traffic stops if there is a “reasonable suspicion” they are undocumented. That law was partially blocked by a federal judge in Charleston. The court struck down the traffic stop provision of the law, and the ban on transporting or harboring an undocumented immigrant. Federal courts have also blocked parts of immigration laws in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Utah.

In the South, Obama victories in the former Confederacy strongholds of Virginia, North Carolina and Florida in 2008 were attributed in part to black and Hispanic turnout, a factor which is poised to change race relations in the South. Nationwide, blacks and Hispanics were a larger share of voters in that election year.

African-Americans are no longer the only minority group, and in some cases not even the dominant minority group in the South, which means that politicians will have to pay attention to the needs and concerns of Latinos. Taking advantage of demographic shifts, a black-Latino coalition with moderate and liberal whites could provide a remedy to waning black political clout, and a counter to the white Republican political dominance of the South.

With Latinos as one of every 12 voters in Georgia (whose minority adult population is 41 percent), North Carolina and Virginia, a rising black and Asian population can alter the Southern political landscape.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove