Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Upcoming Census Signals Demographic, Political Importance of Latinos

As the new speaker of the California state assembly, John Pérez is another example of the increasing political power of Latinos in the United States.  Mr. Pérez, who is also openly gay, takes over a position that has been held by Latinos in the past, including his cousin Antonio Villaraigosa, the current mayor of Los Angeles. In the states with the largest Latino populations, like Texas and California, Latinos’ presence in politics is already seen as normal relative to their numbers.

The upcoming census will confirm what demographers have already determined to be a significant increase in the numbers of Latinos.  Census officials have undertaken a concerted effort to avoid undercounting Latinos, as has been the case in the past.  Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), explains that “if you live in a garage or on somebody’s couch”, as many Latinos do, it is easy not to be counted, and this accounts for past inaccuracies.  If the actual census corroborates the Census Bureau’s estimates, close to 16 percent of the US population will be shown to be Latino.  This would put their numbers above those of African Americans, who are estimated to make up 13.4 percent.

According to William Frey at the Brookings Institution, the growth of the Latino population and the aging of the baby-boom generation are the two most important demographical phenomena in the United States at present.  He points to the fact that white children are a minority in 31 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in this country, and white preschoolers will become a minority in the United States as a whole by 2021.  By 2042, it is estimated that whites will no longer comprise the majority of the American population.

There are more than 6,000 Latino political officials in the United States, according to Mr. Vargas of NALEO.  And while he concedes that many of these represent local level positions that are “the first rung on the political ladder”, it should be noted that there are also 2 Latinos in President Obama’s cabinet, 26 in the House of Representatives, one Latino senator, and a Latina Supreme Court justice.  Mr. Vargas points out suggestively that “there is only one office that has eluded us”.

However, Paul Taylor of the Pew Hispanic Center says that Latinos have not exerted as much political influence as might be expected given their numbers.  Issues like documentation, legal status, and organization have likely contributed to this.  William Frey points to the difficulty of organizing a pan-Hispanic bloc since Latinos often identify with their national backgrounds rather than a broader Latino ethnicity.

But this is changing, says Arturo Vargas.  Faced with legislation and law enforcement practices that are perceived as threatening by Latinos, the diverse and heretofore disorganized group has begun exerting its political strength.  In the 2008 presidential election, for example, Latinos helped secure victories for Barack Obama in key swing states like Florida, New Jersey, Nevada, and New Mexico.  And Latinos will do more than just add to the ranks of the Democrats.  According to Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Latinos will be “the centerpiece of [elections], the kingmakers”.  Their tendencies toward social conservatism and more liberal economic views will make them a unique and challenging voting bloc for politicians to court.

Read at The Economist