The nation's Hispanic population reached an important milestone this week, surpassing the 50 million mark. But beyond the statistic, drawn from U.S. Census data, is the widespread dispersion of Hispanics across the United States. As the fastest-growing group in the nation, Hispanics now make up 16.3 percent of the population. But they dominate the population in many places, such as the Miami suburb of Hialeah, where they account for almost 95 percent of the city's 218,000 residents. In East Los Angeles, they make up 98 percent of that city's 122,000 people.
The Hispanic population grew by 43 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the Census, from 35.3 million to 50.5 million. And there's been a change in what is fueling that growth, with immigration no longer the driving force.
The rate of population increase exceeded estimates, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center. In at least 23 states, Census counts were at least 2 percent higher than expected. But the fact that Hispanics are the fastest-growing group isn't surprising anyone.
"This is something that's been coming and something that's been expected. We've been seeing this for 30 years," says Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center. "Prior to the last decade, more growth in the Hispanic population was coming from immigration. In this decade, there's been a change. There have been more native births than immigrants. But both are still important components."
While large numbers of Hispanics live in Mexican border states like California, Texas, and Arizona, or in traditionally-Hispanic areas like southern Florida, all areas of the country are seeing more Hispanics.
Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, says more Hispanics are moving to the midwest and southeast, and tend to move to areas where the economy is doing relatively well.
Cites in the southwest like Houston, Los Angeles, and El Paso have seen large influxes of Mexican immigrants and native-born Mexican Americans, while cities such as Chicago, New York, and Miami have many more Puerto Ricans and Cubans.
While Hispanic populations are dispersing throughout the United States, there are some cities that are almost entirely Hispanic, such as Hialeah, Florida and East Los Angeles.
Camarota says it is normal for immigrants to cluster together for a generation or two, but he foresees problems down the line if some of these cities don't become more diverse. "If you have a situation where immigrants are predominantly with each other, you might begin to see problems of language acquisition," he says. "They may have issues feeling like they are part of a larger country."
Both experts say it's a no-brainer that the United States will continue to see larger numbers of Hispanics, but immigration policy will play a huge role in just how quickly the population increases. Pew estimates that there will be 127 million Hispanics in the United States by 2050 if current trends continue. The center estimates the nation's total population will rise to 438 million by 2050.
Corrected on 3/28/2011: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center.