"The Latino population is very young, which means they will continue to have a lot of births relative to the general population," said Mark Mather, associate vice president of the Population Reference Bureau. "But we're seeing a slowdown that is likely the result of multiple factors: declining Latina birth rates combined with lower immigration levels. If both of these trends continue, they will lead to big changes down the road."
William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who analyzed the census data, noted that government debates over immigration enforcement may now be less pressing, given slowing growth. "The current congressional and Supreme Court interest in reducing immigration — and the concerns especially about low-skilled and undocumented Hispanic immigration — represent issues that could well be behind us," he said.
Minorities made up roughly 2.02 million, or 50.4 percent of U.S. births in the 12-month period ending July 2011. That compares with 37 percent in 1990.
In all, 348 of the nation's 3,143 counties, or 1 in 9, have minority populations across all age groups that total more than 50 percent. In a sign of future U.S. race and ethnic change, the number of counties reaching the tipping point increases to more than 690, or nearly 1 in 4, when looking only at the under age 5 population.
The counties in transition include Maricopa (Phoenix), Ariz.; King (Seattle), Wash.; Travis (Austin), Texas; and Palm Beach, Fla., where recent Hispanic births are driving the increased diversity among children. Also high on the list are suburban counties such as Fairfax, Va., just outside the nation's capital, and Westchester, N.Y., near New York City, where more open spaces are a draw for young families who are increasingly minority.
According to the latest data, the percentage growth of Hispanics slowed from 4.2 percent in 2001 to 2.5 percent last year. Their population growth would have been even lower if it weren't for their relatively high fertility rates — seven births for every death. The median age of U.S. Hispanics is 27.6 years.
Births actually have been declining for both whites and minorities as many women postponed having children during the economic slump. But the drop since 2008 has been larger for whites, who have a median age of 42. The number of white births fell by 11.4 percent, compared with 3.2 percent for minorities, according to Kenneth Johnson, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire.
Asian population increases also slowed, from 4.5 percent in 2001 to about 2.2 percent. Hispanics and Asians still are the two fastest-growing minority groups, making up about 16.7 percent and 4.8 percent of the U.S. population, respectively.
Blacks, who comprise about 12.3 percent of the population, have increased at a rate of about 1 percent each year. Whites have increased very little in recent years.
—The migration of black Americans back to the South is slowing. New destinations in the South, including Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Raleigh, N.C., and Orlando, Fla., saw sharp drop-offs in black population growth as the prolonged housing bust kept African-Americans locked in place in traditional big cities. Metro areas including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco had reduced declines or gains.
—Nine U.S. counties in five states saw their minority populations across all age groups surpass 50 percent last year. They were Sutter and Yolo in California; Quitman in Georgia; Cumberland in New Jersey; Colfax in New Mexico; and Lynn, Mitchell, Schleicher and Swisher in Texas.
—Maverick County, Texas, had the largest share of minorities at 96.8 percent, followed by Webb County, Texas, and Wade Hampton, Alaska, both at 96 percent.
—Four states — Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas — as well as the District of Columbia have minority populations that exceed 50 percent.
The census estimates used local records of births and deaths, tax records of people moving within the U.S., and census statistics on immigrants. The figures for "white" refer to those whites who are not of Hispanic ethnicity.
Associated Press writer John Raby in Charleston, W.Va., contributed to this report.
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