March 30, 2010

Statistical Profiles of the Hispanic and Foreign-Born Populations in the U.S.

The Pew Hispanic Center recently updated its statistical profiles of Hispanics and foreign-born people in the U.S. The profiles are derived from the Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey (ACS), the most recent available.

The updated profiles feature two new topics: racial self-identification and health insurance coverage. Racial identity questions in census forms have varied over the years and that has had an impact on results. The race and ethnicity questions in the 2008 ACS reflect the wording being used in the 2010 census. Thus, the 2008 data predict how the results may appear in the 2010 census as well as how those results may differ from the 2000 census. Questions on health insurance coverage were included in the ACS for the first time in 2008. The large sample size of the ACS permits more detailed analysis of that issue at the state level and by detailed demographics.

Two profiles—Hispanics in the United States, 2008 and Foreign-Born Population in the United States, 2008—are national in scope. These profiles focus on the demographic and economic characteristics of Hispanics and the foreign born in the U.S. Topics covered include racial self-identification, age, geographic dispersion, nativity, citizenship, origin, language proficiency, living arrangements, marital status, fertility, schooling, health insurance coverage, earnings, poverty and other labor market outcomes.

A second set of profiles focuses on the demographic and economic characteristics of Hispanics in each of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The range of topics covered in the State Demographic Profiles is similar to those included in the national portraits of Hispanics and the foreign born. Comparisons with the white, black and total populations are also available in the statistical portraits.

Racial Self-identification

When asked to identify their race, most Hispanics—62.5% in 2008—say they are white only. A small share—just 1.9%—self-identify as black only, and a sizeable minority—30.4%—self identifies with “some other race.” Among non-Hispanics, by contrast, just 0.3% identify with “some other race.”

Even though nearly one-third of Hispanics identified with “some other race” in 2008 that share is significantly less than in preceding years. Historically, about four-in-ten Hispanics have reported as being of some other race—37.7% in the 1980 census;1 43.2% in the 1990 census; 42.6% in the 2000 census and 39.7% in the 2007 ACS. The share persisted in that range despite several revisions in the race and Hispanic origin questions from census to census.

Why did the share of Hispanics identifying with some other race drop by nine percentage points from 2007 to 2008? The answer is not known definitively but a revision in the instructions may have contributed to that drop. The new instruction (in bold) in the 2008 ACS appears before the Hispanic-origin and race questions and is as follows: “NOTE: Please answer BOTH Question 5 about Hispanic origin and Question 6 about race. For this survey, Hispanic origins are not races.” The same instruction appears in the 2010 census.

The Census Bureau instruction “Hispanic origins are not races” is noteworthy from another perspective. Surveys of Latinos conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center generally find that a plurality volunteers Hispanic/Latino when asked the following: “What race do you consider yourself to be: white, black or African-American, Asian, or some other race?” In the 2009 National Survey of Latinos the response to this question was as follows: 26% white, 8% black or other, 28% some other race, and 37% Hispanic/Latino (volunteered).

Health Insurance Coverage

A question on health insurance coverage was asked in the ACS for the first time in 2008. The uninsured rate estimated from the ACS reflects the share of the population that lacked public or private health insurance coverage at the time of the survey. The ACS is conducted each month of the year and the resulting estimate is an annual average for 2008.

Among racial and ethnic groups, Hispanics are the least likely to have health insurance. Nationally, the uninsured rate among Hispanics was 31.7% in 2008. The rate among whites—10.7%—is the lowest of any group and the rate for blacks—19.0%—lies in between. Nativity also matters—12.9% of all native born are uninsured but the rate climbs to 32.9% for the foreign born. The uninsured rate for non-citizens was 46.4% in 2008.

The state demographic profiles also present data on health insurance coverage by race, ethnicity and nativity.

  1. Gibson, Campbell and Kay Jung. "Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals By Race, 1790 to 1990, and By Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, For The United States, Regions, Divisions, and States," Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, D.C., September 2002, Working Paper Series No. 56.