NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Misinterpreting The Census

May 11, 2001

Looking at 2000 census data, many in the media have promoted the view that whites are fast becoming a minority in many areas of the country -- largely because of the growth of the Hispanic population. But some observers say this is a misrepresentation. They claim that there is no possibility that whites will become a minority in this nation in this century.

  • Even if we view only the non-Hispanic white population, whites remain 69.1 percent of the total population of the country.
  • If Hispanic whites are included, whites constitute 75.14 percent of the total population -- down by 5 percent from the 1990 census.
  • And this does not take into account the 6.8 million people who identified in the census with "two or more races" -- 80 percent of whom listed white as one of these races.

Since 48 percent of Hispanics -- the fastest growing immigrant category -- identified themselves as white, the most recent census projections show whites will still constitute 74.8 percent of the U.S. population in 2050.

The Census Bureau made a new social category by lumping together people from Latin America and Spain as Hispanics, whose common heritage is linguistic rather than racial.

In the early decades of the 20th century, the Irish, Italians and Jews were classified as separate races by the federal immigration office. The practice was discontinued only after long protests by Jewish leaders.

In 1930, Mexicans were classified as a separate race by the Census Bureau -- which reclassified them as white in 1940, after protests. Between then and the 1960s, people from Latin America were routinely classified as whites. Then when vast numbers of poor immigrants began coming from Latin America, the Hispanic category emerged.

Source: Orlando Patterson (Harvard University), "Race By the Numbers," New York Times, May 8, 2001.


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