Monday, July 18, 2011 at 9:12 a.m.
The Latino population has risen significantly in the United States in the past decade, but not just because of immigration.
Actually, a higher birth rate among Hispanic women is now the dominant factor in the rise, according to a new study
The driving force for this surge: Mexican-American babies. This, according to research recently published by the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center
One reason why the Mexican-American birth rate surpassed that group's immigration rate is that in the past decade immigration, legal and illegal, from Mexico into the U.S. has declined.
For example, between 2000-2010, 4.2 million Mexican immigrants came to the U.S. During the same period, 7.2 million Mexican-American babies were born.
But in the decade before, there were 4.7 million new Mexican-American immigrants and the same number of babies born.
The main factor in the increasing birth rate, as the study points out, is that Mexican-American women are much younger than women in any other minority group in the U.S. The median age for Mexican-American women is 25, a healthy-childbearing age.
Jeff Passel, a senior demographer with the Center, says the statistics are not surprising.
"This study gave us an opportunity to look at the past decade as a whole," Passel explains. "But it is surprising to a lot of people because the general perception is that [legal and illegal] immigration is driving the growth in this population."
Meanwhile in Mexico, the birth rate is declining. On average, in 1960, a Mexican woman in her country had seven children, but in 2009 the average was two.
Garcia points out that the U.S. depends on foreign labor, particularly from Mexican immigrants, and if Mexican women are not having as many babies, America might have to look elsewhere for foreign labor.
"Central America will be a source of labor," Garcia says. "[But] it's hard to predict, because we'll have to see what situations those economies are in."
The boom in the Latino population will eventually turn into political clout, states Garcia, assuming that the Hispanic community starts heading to the polls.
"It depends on our community's leadership [and its ability to get Latinos to vote]," Garcia observes.