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What it means to be Hispanic in Phoenix

The Phoenix metropolitan area is one of the nation's leading sites of arguably the most important socio-economic trend shaping our collective future: The rapid growth of America's Latino population. It's not exactly news—or it shouldn't be to Arizonans. Still, a new report from the Pew Hispanic Center offers a national perspective on the Valley's dramatically changing demographics.

A few highlights worth remembering, and even pondering:

  • We're in the top 10. The Phoenix metro area has the 8th largest Hispanic population— 1.1 million —among all metro areas. This is just below Miami and just above San Antonio. Los Angeles is first, and New York/northern New Jersey is second.
  • There's the Southwest, then there's the rest. Of the nation's 10 largest Hispanic metro populations, three are in California and three in Texas
  • The population mixes are mixed. The Phoenix area has the 6th-highest Hispanic share, 30 percent, just below Houston and above Dallas. Miami leads the nation with a 66 percent Hispanic population share, followed by San Antonio at 55 percent.
  • "Hispanic" means different things in different places. Mexicans form the majority of Latinos in the Phoenix area, and in the nation as a whole. But Cubans are the majority of Hispanics in the Miami area, Salvadorans in the Washington, D.C. area and Puerto Ricans in the Philadelphia/New Jersey area.
  • Phoenix's Latino population is young. Phoenix-area Hispanics have the lowest median age — 24 — of the top 10 Hispanic metro areas. Phoenix is tied with Dallas for the highest percentage of its Hispanic population, 38 percent, younger than 18.
  • Most are citizens. Of the top ten metro areas, Phoenix has the third-highest rate of citizenship among Hispanics at 75 percent, which is about the same percentage as for all U.S. Hispanics.
  • Many lack education. Phoenix-area Hispanics with less than a high-school diploma comprise 38 percent of its adult Hispanic population, about the same percentage as for all U.S. Hispanic adults. Among all Phoenix-area adults of any ethnicity, 14 percent lack a diploma.
  • Higher education is even rarer. Phoenix ranks ninth among the top 10 Hispanic metros in its percentage of Latinos with a bachelor's degree or higher, 10 percent, which is slightly lower than the percentage for all U.S. Hispanic adults. Among all Phoenix-area adults of any ethnicity, 28 percent have a B.A. or more.
  • Most Phoenix Latinos speak English well. Among the 10 largest Hispanic metropolitan areas, Phoenix ranks second in the percentage of Hispanics aged 5 years and older who are proficient in English, at 72 percent.
  • Many earn relatively little. Phoenix registered the lowest 2010 median annual household income, $35,600, among Hispanics in the 10 largest Hispanic metropolitan areas. The median annual household income for all Phoenix-area residents of any ethnicity in 2010 was $50,000.
  • Poverty is common. The Phoenix area has the highest Hispanic poverty rate, 28 percent, among the top 10 Hispanic metro areas. Among all metro Phoenix residents, the poverty rate was 17 percent. (The Census Bureau's 2010 poverty threshold for a family of four was $22,314).
  • Hispanic children are even poorer. About one-third, 34 percent, of Hispanic children younger than 18 in Phoenix live below the poverty line. Among all metro Phoenix children, 23 percent are below the poverty line.

So. Phoenix-area Latinos form one of the nation's largest populations of young, low-income, undereducated U.S. citizens. It's a population that's growing and not going away. In light of such fundamental demographic developments, even measures like Arizona's infamous Senate Bill 1070 shrink in importance. Arizona's leaders will doubtless continue debating such issues as guns in schools and presidential birthplaces, but they might also want to take a look at this.

Data for this report are derived from the 2010 American Community Survey, which provides detailed geographic, demographic and economic characteristics for each group.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

Bill Hart is a senior policy analyst at Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

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