The 98 million Census 2000 questionnaires mailed this week are good indicators of where America stands as a melting pot.
For the first time in the decennial head count, citizens can check multiple boxes to clarify their racial identity. And the choices are many: there are now about 60 different racial combinations recognized for non-Hispanics, and another 60 for Hispanics.
The Census Bureau paid more than $100 million on an ad blitz to convince Americans to send back their forms. The campaign is targeting traditionally undercounted groups, and with good reason. Census officials estimate that 1.6 percent of the population, disproportionately minorities, were undercounted in 1990.
Census forms are available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog, the language of the Philippines. And written census-taking guides are available in 49 languages. To encourage participation from recent immigrants, census officials stress that no information can be shared with other government agencies, such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service or the Internal Revenue Service.
If successful, the results of these aggressive head-counting efforts will likely turn our conversation about race on its head, experts say. New census data will show that at least three out of ten U.S. residents are something other than white.
Two Different Americas
For a preview of the census data, immigration statistics are a good place to start.
Nearly one million immigrants enter the country each year, largely of Latin American and Asian origin, explains William H. Frey, senior fellow of demographic studies at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica, Calif. By around 2005, the Hispanic population is expected to outnumber the black population. And in just 30 years, one out of four Americans will be either Hispanic or Asian in ethnic makeup.
Furthermore, there are almost three million interracial marriages today — about five percent of all couples, compared to three percent in 1980.
The current demographic changes follow a common pattern in American history: The metropolitan areas are becoming highly diverse, and areas outside the cities are more homogeneous.
In Houston, a recent survey found that about a third of the city is Hispanic, another third is white, 28 percent is African American and 6 percent is Asian American. “If you want to see what the nation will look like in 2050, drive to one of the five major cities,” said Nestor Rodriguez, director of the Center for Immigration Research at the University of Houston. “Those who don’t like diversity are going to have problems.”
Lucrative New Markets
And if mainstream America has so far ignored the political and economic power of Hispanics and Asians, it may not do so much longer. Some say census data will introduce growing numbers of Hispanics and Asian Americans as lucrative target markets.
“The census numbers will open up the eyes of skeptics of investing in ‘niche markets,’” says Christopher Campos, vice president of business development for the Bravo Group, one of several multicultural ad agencies that worked on the publicity campaign for the Census Bureau.
Already, Hispanics make up one in four residents of Los Angeles, Campos said, hardly a “niche” market. Advertisers who ignore the Hispanic population there are missing out on a huge chunk of the area’s buying power.