WASHINGTON –– Arizona’s Hispanics made up just over 30 percent of the overall state population for the first time in 2012, as the state’s minorities continued their steady growth, according to Census Bureau estimates released Thursday.
The bureau also said that 43 percent of Arizona residents were minorities in 2012, with the state continuing to inch toward a minority-majority population within the next 15 to 20 years.
The growth in the minority population is led by Hispanics, whose population has doubled since the early 1990s, according to James Garcia, a spokesman at the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
But Garcia said the recent growth is different than that of the previous two decades, because it is now being driven by native-born Hispanics rather than immigrants.
“Despite the fact that a lot of immigrants, and in particular undocumented immigrants, left Arizona in the past three years, the population trend seems to still be continuing,” Garcia said.
While Arizona’s Hispanics grew from 25 percent to 30 percent of the overall population between 2000 and 2012, according to the Census, non-Hispanic whites fell from from 64 percent to 57 percent in the same period.
The state’s Hispanic population has not grown as fast as some analysts had predicted, but it is still on track to make Arizona a minority-majority state in coming decades.
An Arizona Office of Employment and Population Statistics report released in December said that at current rates of growth, the minority population will overtake whites as the majority by 2027.
Jim Chang, state demographer at the Arizona Department of Administration, said that if the Hispanic population continues to increase at recent rates, it will become the largest single demographic group in the state by 2047.
The difference in the average age of whites and Hispanics in the state underscores the coming demographic changes. The bureau estimated that the average age of non-Hispanic whites in Arizona was 43 last year, while the average for Hispanics was 28.
“The demographics show that, largely, the younger population coming up – in other words our future workforce – are Latino,” said Joseph Garcia, director of the Latino Public Policy Center at the Morrison Institute.
Because of that, Garcia said the current education achievement gap between Hispanics and whites in the state should be cause for concern.
“If we do not close the Latino education gap we are going to wind up with a workforce that is largely undereducated, underskilled and thereby ill-equipped to be able to compete economically with other states and regions, and even internationally,” he said.
Garcia said state leaders must address the challenges and opportunities that a large, and growing, Hispanic population present.
“We’re going to have us a workforce that is readily available, whereas other states are going to be suffering from workforce shortages,” if the state can seize those opportunities, Garcia said.