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Visiting Pew researcher says Hispanics hold key to U.S. growth

By Reinaldo Escobar

El Observador de Utah

Published: Friday, May 20 2011 11:55 a.m. MDT

Rakesh Kochhar, Associate Director for Research, Pew Hispanic Center habla en uno de los reuniones durante la conferencia de la camara de comercio hispano de Utah en el Hotel Sheraton en Salt Lake City el viernes, 13 de mayo, 2011. (Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah) Rakesh Kochhar, Associate Director for Research, Pew Hispanic Center speaks at one of the meetings during the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convention at the Sheraton Hotel in Salt Lake City Friday, May 13, 2011. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY — More Hispanics live in the United States than previously thought, Hispanics likely still need at least a generation or two to reach the same education levels as other American races, and Hispanics will account for the majority of the U.S. population increase over the next four decades.

So said Rakesh Kochhar, assistant director of research for the Pew Hispanic Center, citing U.S. Census data and Pew statistics as he spoke recently at the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's annual convention.

Census figures from 2010 show 50.5 million Hispanics reside in the U.S, 1.5 million more than anticipated and a 43 percent increase — or an additional 15.2 million — since the 2000 Census.

Comparing U.S. population increases by race over the past decade, Asians trailed at 42.9 percent; whites at 1.2 percent, blacks at 11 percent and "other" — including those reporting more than one race — at 24.1 percent.

The total U.S. population grew 9.3 percent to 308.7 million in 2010.

"Utah is one of the states in which the Hispanic community has grown more rapidly, at a rate of 78 percent during the last decade," said Kochhar, adding "Utah, as with the rest of the nation, will be increasingly more Hispanic in the future."

Kochhar said one area of concern suggested by data analyses is that Hispanic education levels are not keeping up with growth increases, despite U.S.-born children of immigrants attending U.S. schools, speaking fluent English and going to college in increasing numbers.

The likelihood is that it will take more than a generation or two to close the education gap with other U.S. races.

"For now, although more Latinos go to the centers of higher education, there is still a gap present due to the fact that some are not setting high expectations, the numbers of school dropouts are high, and they are subject to economic pressures," he said. "Minorities suffer in these situations because many have to work to maintain their families, but for following generations, things will be different."

With the benefit of a stronger educational background, Latinos will gain a stronger presence in government "and they will be able to have their voice here," he added.

Hispanics are projected to account for 29 percent of the U.S. population in 2050, up from 16 percent in 2010. However, Hispanics will account for the majority of the increase in the U.S. population between now and 2050, Kochhar said.

Kochhar suggests Hispanic immigrants could hold the key to U.S. economic recovery, as opposed to European nations where immigration is limited and populations are decreasing.

"The future of the labor force is in the hands of immigrants," he said.

EMAIL: rescobar@elobservadordeutah.com

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