POLITICS

Latinos Will Play Starring Role in House Redistricting

  • FILE - In this Jan. 21, 2010 file photograph, New Yorkers walk to work. The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its widest amount on record as young adults and children in particular struggled to stay afloat in the recession. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file)

    FILE - In this Jan. 21, 2010 file photograph, New Yorkers walk to work. The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its widest amount on record as young adults and children in particular struggled to stay afloat in the recession. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file)  (AP2010)

  • FILE - In this Jan. 21, 2010 file photograph, New Yorkers walk to work. The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its widest amount on record as young adults and children in particular struggled to stay afloat in the recession. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file)

    FILE - In this Jan. 21, 2010 file photograph, New Yorkers walk to work. The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its widest amount on record as young adults and children in particular struggled to stay afloat in the recession. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file)  (AP2010)

In December, the Census Bureau will release 2010 population counts. It will doubtless trigger a politically contentious process of divvying up House seats—and the Hispanic population will be big players.

In all, Southern and Western states are expected to take seats away the Midwest and Northeast.But last-minute shifts could affect a handful of states hanging in the balance, including California, which is hoping to avoid losing its first seat ever, and Arizona, which may now gain just one seat rather than two based partly on slowing Hispanic population growth.

Household data numbers released Tuesday shows that Hispanics, the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group, are helping drive growth in several Southern states. The findings are part of a broad array of 2009 data released over the past month that have highlighted the impact of the recession — from soaring poverty and a widening gap between rich and poor to record levels of food stamp use.

Five states have seen their numbers double over the last decade — South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas in the South and South Dakota in the Upper Midwest. Other big gainers include Georgia and North Carolina.

Several of those states, South Carolina, Georgia and possibly North Carolina, stand to gain House seats based partly on that fast growth.

At the same time, the Latino population remains a relatively smaller share of the population in those states, numbering about 8 percent or less. There, they also tend to be disproportionately low-income workers who lack a high-school education, speak mostly Spanish and don't vote in elections, which analysts say may be driving some of the tensions over immigration and jobs.

In recent months, the rhetoric has ranged from a call for English-only policies in states and localities that wish to minimize the use of Spanish and other languages, to a call to strip birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants.

"Hispanics' recent growth and sharp disparity with existing white populations may have something to do with the anti-immigrant backlash now being observed in large parts of the country," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who reviewed the household income data.

Hispanics had the highest income in metro areas such as Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Dayton, Ohio, and Virginia Beach, where they also were more likely to have a college degree. Lower-educated Hispanics also had strong earnings in San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., two areas with high costs of living where more-affordable immigrant labor tends to be in greater demand.

Nationally, the government reported last month that median household incomes dipped to $49,777, the lowest since 1997, with the sharpest drop-offs in the Midwest and Northeast. Broken down by race, blacks had the biggest income losses, dropping to $32,584. They were followed by non-Hispanic whites, whose income fell to $54,461. Asian incomes remained flat at $65,469.

Income among Hispanics edged higher but lagged whites significantly at $38,039.

 

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.