July 15, 2011 | Philly | Original Article

U.S. births the cause of Latino increase

WASHINGTON - With immigration slowing, babies born in the United States, rather than newly arrived Mexican immigrants, are driving most of the fast growth in the Latino population.

A new analysis of census data highlights a turning point in Hispanics' U.S. growth. Demographers point to the potential for broader political effect as U.S.-born Mexican Americans increase their numbers compared with noncitizen, foreign-born counterparts, who lack voting rights.

"As these young Latinos age, they will enter public schools, participate in the nation's economy as workers and consumers, and enter the growing pool of Hispanic eligible voters," said Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, who cowrote the study released Thursday.

The analysis focuses on the growth of Mexican Americans, who make up more than 60 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population. Tracing a mass Mexican migration to the United States that began in 1970 and reached its height during the 1990s, it finds that young Mexicans who crossed the border many years ago are now adding to the population by having many children. That is a contrast to other racial and ethnic groups, who on average are older.

Currently, the median age of Mexican Americans is 25, compared with 30 for other Hispanic subgroups, 32 for blacks, and 41 for whites. Mexican American women typically will have given birth to 2.5 children by their mid-40s, higher than for other groups.

Immigration from Mexico has fallen in recent years, dropping by 60 percent since 2006 after a souring U.S. economy and stepped-up border enforcement. The number of new immigrants from Mexico fell over the last decade to 4.2 million, from 4.7 million in 1990-2000.

In all, the Mexican American population grew by 11.4 million over the last decade; 63 percent were a result of births.