For a brief moment last month—roughly a 72-hour span beginning at 11:00 p.m. on November 6 and concluding late in the evening of November 9—everyone in America was interested in demographics. That’s because, in addition to rewarding the just, punishing the wicked, and certifying that America was (for the moment) not racist, President Barack Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney pointed to two ineluctable demographic truths. The first was expected: that the growth of the Hispanic-American cohort is irresistible and will radically transform our country’s ethnic future. The second caught people by surprise: that the proportion of unmarried Americans was suddenly at an all-time high.
Unfortunately, by the time the window closed on the public’s demographic curiosity no one really understood either of these shifts. Or where they came from. Or whether they were even particularly true. As is often the case, people tended to fixate on a relatively small, contingent part of America’s changing demographic makeup and look past the bigger, more consequential part of the story.
So let’s begin by asking the obvious question: Hispanics are America’s demographic future—true or false? The answer is, both. Sort of.
Start with what we know. As of the 2010 census, there were 308.7 million people in America, 50.5 million of whom (16 percent) were classified as being of “Hispanic origin.” Of that 50 million, about half are foreign-born legal immigrants. Another 11 million or so are illegal immigrants. A few other facts, just to give you some texture: 63 percent of American Hispanics trace their origins to Mexico, 9.2 percent to Puerto Rico, and 3.5 percent to Cuba. And more than half of the 50 million live in just three states, California, Texas, and Florida.