Census: Hispanic kids outnumber whites in Az
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Census: Hispanic kids outnumber whites in Az

Arizona's Hispanic population grew far faster than other groups over the past decade, and children of Hispanic ancestry now outnumber those who are white, according to 2010 Census numbers released Thursday.

Of Arizona's population under 18 years old, 43.2 percent were Hispanic and 41.6 percent were white, the data showed.

"That probably will surprise a lot of people outside of Arizona because Arizona is still thought of as being a pretty white state, but it isn't, especially for the younger part of the population," said William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.

Of Arizona's 6.39 million residents, 1.9 million, or 29.7 percent, were Hispanic, the data showed. The Hispanic population grew by about 600,000, or 46.3 percent, during the decade, while growth for all other groups was 17.3 percent.

Hispanics made up 25.3 percent of Arizona's population in 2000 and 18.8 percent in 1990.

The change in demographics means Arizona will have to adapt to new challenges, Frey said. For example, its education system may have to focus more on English language instruction in order to adequately prepare students, he said.

"The special needs of the diverse population does need to be taken into account, and it's especially important in times of fiscal stress, when there's a lot of resources that are being cut back for all kinds of things," Frey said.

Leonel Urza, whose family is originally from Guatemala, said he was drawn to Phoenix because he thought it would be a better place to raise his 2-year-old daughter. Urza moved from New York late last year.

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"I have a lot of family that lives here," he said while playing with his daughter at a west Phoenix park. "It's a clean environment, you know, less populated … It's more family oriented here."

Also at the park was Hendricks Peña, who has lived in the Valley for all of his 37 years.

"I think it's good that this amount of Hispanics are in the Valley of Arizona because they're not that far away from home either, and this is where we all descend from," he said.

Despite the growth shown in the census numbers, the Hispanic population fell short of the Brookings Institution's projections by more than 100,000 people, Frey said, adding that the down economy is the most likely culprit.

But Jennifer Steen, a political science professor at Arizona State University, said the shortfall also could have to do with the difficulty of counting undocumented immigrants or even an exodus of immigrants in response to SB 1070.

"It's always hard to count those people in any context because they have a lot of reasons to be wary of identifying themselves to a representative of the United States government," she said.

Demographers have long projected projected that Hispanics will eventually become a majority in Arizona. But even then, Steen said, it will take even more time for the state's politics to reflect that change.

"Even on the day when Hispanics constitute the majority of the state's population they still won't constitute the majority of the voting population," she said.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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Heather Billings/Cronkite News Service

See how the Hispanic population changed in Arizona’s counties between 2000 and 2010.

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