Census tracks 'major waves'

By Paul Overberg and Haya El Nasser, USA TODAY

The nation's two largest minority groups are following strikingly different paths: Hispanics are moving to areas with few from their ethnic group; African-Americans are moving to suburbs in the South that have large black populations, Census estimates released Thursday show.

"These are two major waves in America," says William Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "One is the black return to the South. The other is Hispanics going to places where everybody else is moving, following the jobs."

The July 1, 2004, estimates show that the share of Hispanics living in counties with large concentrations of Hispanics is slipping.

In the 1990s, most Hispanic immigrants came to the USA through five "gateways": California, Texas, Illinois, New York and Florida. "Now, you're just as likely to go to Iowa, South Carolina or Tennessee," Frey says.

The spreading out of Hispanics challenges the communities they settle in and Hispanics themselves. Schools and local governments often are not equipped to deal with Spanish speakers.

Hispanics make up at least 5% of the population in 28 states, up from 16 in 1990, Frey says.

"You've got a very large share of the population living not in stereotypical neighborhoods where all the signs are in Spanish," says Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, a research group in Washington. "There are still a lot living in densely Hispanic neighborhoods, but there are more who are scattered all over the landscape."

Some are middle-class Hispanics moving to the suburbs. Others are less-educated, poorer immigrants seeking jobs in construction, service industries and retailing.

Blacks' patterns are very different. The percentage in counties that have the largest share of blacks is inching up. More than 17 million — almost half of all blacks — live in the 11 states that were in the Confederacy, up a million from 2000.

Many black professionals are leaving Northern black strongholds such as Baltimore and Philadelphia and settling in mostly black suburbs of Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte and other Sun Belt metros.

"They have housing options," says Roderick Harrison, demographer at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank specializing in African-American studies. "They're seeking places where there are other successful upper-income blacks, where people feel they'll be more comfortable."

The data also show that Texas has joined Hawaii, New Mexico and California as states whose minorities exceed 50% of the population.