December 8, 2010 | Clarion Ledger | Original Article

Hispanic voting clout growing, says census

Census estimates released this week brace the nation that Hispanic immigration is propelling an emerging shift in political power, one Mississippi expert says.

Estimates provided by the government Monday not only suggest that the nation's population has spiked by as much as 31 million since 2000, they also signal that a growing number of Hispanics are approaching voting age.

By April 1 of this year, Hispanics embodied 21.8 percent to 25 percent of the United States population under age 20, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2010 Demographic Analysis.

It was 17 percent 10 years ago.

"Children who were born here of immigrant parents, of course, are citizens and more are beginning to be old enough to vote," said Bill Chandler Jr., executive director of Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, or MIRA.

"If they become a significant voting bloc, certain politicians will have to start listening to them instead of attacking them."

But in Mississippi, the Hispanic population has been relatively low: 74,000 or so represented about 2.5 percent of the state's 2009 population estimate, the Census Bureau has reported.

By comparison, the 45 million-plus Hispanics in this country represent more than 15 percent of its residents.

This week's Demographic Analysis estimates provided no state or local breakdowns. Those will arrive on Tuesday, when the Census Bureau releases the American Community Survey.

The ACS and the Demographic Analysis are, more or less, opening acts for the official 2010 census, which will be unveiled by month's end.

That information will be used to assign seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to each state.

After the 2000 census showed its population growth was slower than many other states', Mississippi lost one of its five representatives.

Compared to the official census, the Demographic Analysis is somewhat limited in its usefulness.

"It may confuse some people waiting for the official count," said Clifford Holley, interim director for the Center for Population Studies at the University of Mississippi.

"But the Bureau is trying to let people know they're doing the best they can. They're trying to maintain transparency. These estimates represent a fairly decent measure to account for people who are missed in the official Census.

In 2012, the Census Bureau also will release estimates of 2010 census undercounts and overcounts.

"The estimates released Monday," Holley said, "looked at birth and death records, Medicare rolls for people over 65 and migration figures to estimate how many people there should have been in the United States on one day - April 1, 2010."

The figures include calculations of new immigrants as of that date.

All numbers are broken down by age, sex, black and non-black groups and, significantly, Hispanic origin for residents up to age 19.

"This is the very first time they have released data on the Hispanic population for ages under 20," said Terri Ann Lowenthal, independent consultant to an alliance of organizations known as the Census Project, which monitors the progress of the 2010 census.

"We are starting to have better data regarding Hispanic births; that's why this estimate can be included now."

Because the Bureau used a variety of sources, it produced five series of estimated numbers in each category from low to high.

"The hope probably is that when the final census comes out, it will reflect that middle number," said Barbara Logue, state demographer with the state College Board.

The middle estimate for the total population is around 308.5 million, which is slightly below a previous census assessment of 309 million. In 2000, the official population count was 281.4 million.

By collecting administrative records and other information, the Demographic Analysis methodology differs from that wielded in the official census, which is, essentially, a head count.

In the attempt to get an accurate count, "the problem is immigration," said Logue.

The report's estimates for the Hispanic population, ages 0-19, vary from 18.26 million to 21.3 million, or up to one-quarter of the age group's entire high-end population estimate of 85.2 million.

Without Hispanics, the number of young people in the United States would have dropped since 2000.

"There have always been problems with complete counts in communities of color throughout the country. I'm sure the same thing probably happened in Mississippi, even though we tried hard to get a complete count."

Latinos' fear of the census is driven in part by Arizona's strict anti-illegal immigration law and copycat legislation in other states, Chandler said.