September 8, 2016

U.S. Latino Population Growth and Dispersion Has Slowed Since Onset of the Great Recession

1. U.S. Hispanic population dispersion before and after the onset of the Great Recession

The first 14 years of the new century have been marked by the continued growth and dispersion of the U.S. Latino population outside of counties with historically large Latino populations. But since the onset of the Great Recession in 2007, both have slowed 4 as immigration from Latin America and Latino fertility rates declined.

This chapter explores Hispanic population dispersion trends at the county level through several different measures. The analysis finds that no matter how measured, Hispanic population dispersion is slowing as Hispanic population growth cools.

Growth in the number of counties with at least 1,000 Hispanics

About a quarter (27%) of the nation’s more than 3,100 counties had at least 1,000 Hispanics in 1990. That share grew to nearly four-in-ten (38%) in 2000 as the Hispanic population grew rapidly during the 1990s. And by 2007, the share of counties with at least 1,000 Hispanics grew by 8 percentage points to 46%.

However, national Hispanic population growth began to cool after the start of the Great Recession as Hispanic immigration to the U.S. slowed and Hispanic fertility rates declined. As a result, between 2007 and 2014, the share of counties with at least 1,000 Hispanics grew by just 4 percentage points, to 50% of the nation’s counties.

Since 1990, Latinos have increasingly settled in counties outside the largest U.S. metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Houston, New York City or Miami, all of which also have some of the country’s largest Latino populations. In 2014, nearly half (44%) of counties with at least 1,000 Hispanics were non-metropolitan – up from 34% in 1990.

A declining share of Latinos live in counties that had more than 50,000 Latinos in 1990

Another way to examine the dispersion of the nation’s Latino population is to examine the share that lives in counties with historically large Latino populations. Since 1990, this share has declined, slowing after the onset of the Great Recession in 2007.

In 1990, roughly three-quarters (74%) of Latinos lived in counties with 50,000 Latinos or more (65 counties in 1990). The share of Latinos that lived in the same 65 counties fell to 69% in 2000 and 64% in 2007. By 2014, the share of Latinos living in counties with historically large Latino populations declined another 2 percentage points to 62%.

Meanwhile, the share of Latinos who lived in the 612 counties with 1,000 to 9,999 Latinos in 1990 has nearly doubled. While these counties had relatively large populations overall, they had few Hispanics in 1990. 5 In 2014, 14% of Latinos lived in these counties – up from 13% in 2007, 11% in 2000 and 9% in 1990.


Since 2007, Latino growth is less concentrated in counties where the Latino population has grown by at least 10,000

Between 2007 and 2014, there were 170 counties where the Hispanic population grew by at least 10,000 – down from 202 counties from 2000 to 2007 and 192 from 1990 to 2000. These counties began with relatively large Hispanic populations. In fact, with few exceptions, the 170 counties where the Hispanic population increased by 10,000 or more were also among the top 200 counties with the largest Hispanic populations in 2007.

Latino population growth has become less concentrated in counties with historically large Latino populations and whose Latino population grew by at least 10,000. This dispersion of Latino population growth was more rapid between 2000 and 2007 than in 2007 to 2014, mirroring the slowdown in dispersion measured in other ways.

Fully 82% of U.S. Latino population growth between 1990 and 2000 was in counties where the Latino population grew by at least 10,000. This share fell by 4 percentage points to 78% between 2000 and 2007. And between 2007 and 2014, this share reached 76% – only 2 points less than the prior period.

Increasingly, a greater share of the growth of Latino population is occurring in counties where the Latino population increase has been between 1,000 and 9,999 people. Between 1990 and 2000, 15% of the Latino population growth occurred in these types of counties, compared with 19% between 2000 and 2007 and 20% between 2007 and 2014.

Hispanics are more evenly dispersed across U.S. counties in 2014 than previously, but their dispersion has slowed since 2007

One broad overall measure of dispersion is the dissimilarity index. This measure ranges in value from 0 to 100 and provides a single summary metric that measures dispersion. It does this by showing what percentage of Hispanics would need to move in order to have the proportion of Hispanics in each county equal the proportion of Hispanics in the nation’s population. A dissimilarity index value of zero would indicate that Hispanics are evenly distributed across U.S. countries, while an index of 100 would indicate complete segregation of the U.S. Hispanic population from non-Hispanics.

In 1990, the dissimilarity index for the U.S. Hispanic population was 57 – meaning that 57% of Hispanics would need to move to ensure Hispanics were evenly distributed across U.S. counties. By 2000, the Hispanic population was more dispersed throughout U.S. counties as the index fell to 52.

From 2000 to 2007, the dissimilarity index fell again, to 48 in 2007, indicating the continued dispersion of the U.S. Hispanic population across the nation’s counties. The index also declined from 2007 to 2014, but only by 2 points, reaching 46 in 2014. This means in 2014, 46% of Hispanics would need to move to have the same proportion of Hispanics in each county as the proportion of Hispanics in the national population. Yet while this measure indicates that Hispanics continued to move to counties where there were fewer Hispanics after the onset of the Great Recession, dispersion was slower than it had been from 2000 to 2007.

Northeastern counties account for a growing share of Hispanic population growth since 2007

Though Hispanic population growth has been largely centered in the Southern and Western regions of the U.S., since 2007 counties in the Northeast have made up a rising share of this growth. As the Northeast made up a larger portion of the nation’s Hispanic population growth between 2007 and 2014, there was a slight decline for all of the other regions of the U.S. compared with the seven years prior.

Between 2007 and 2014, 14% of the nation’s Hispanic population growth occurred in Northeast counties – up from 11% between 2000 and 2007. Between 1990 and 2000, 12% of Hispanic growth occurred in the Northeast. Counties located in the Middle Atlantic division accounted for a larger portion of this rising share than counties located in New England. In fact, 11% of Hispanic population growth between 2007 and 2014 was in counties in the Middle Atlantic division, compared with 4% in the New England division. 6

Counties in the South have accounted for a larger portion of the nation’s Hispanic population growth since the 1990s. Between 1990 and 2000, 37% of the Hispanic population growth occurred in southern counties – a share that rose to 44% between 2000 and 2007 before declining slightly to 43% between 2007 and 2014. While the South Atlantic division followed this pattern, the West South Central division accounted for a growing share of Hispanic growth throughout all three time periods – reaching 22% between 2007 and 2014. The East South Central division accounted for 2 percent or less of Hispanic population growth. However, counties in the West South Central region made up an increasing share of the nation’s Hispanic population growth throughout each of the time periods. Between 2007 and 2014, counties in the West South Central area (22%) and South Atlantic (19%) made up most of the South’s share of Hispanic population growth.

By contrast, the share of the nation’s Hispanic population growth that happened in the West declined for each period. Between 2000 and 2007, Hispanic population growth in counties in the West accounted for 35% of national Hispanic population growth – a decline of about 5 percentage points from 41% during the decade prior. 7 Counties in the Pacific division of the West largely drove this decline: Between 2000 and 2007, the Pacific division accounted for 24% of national Hispanic population growth, compared with 29% in the decade prior. The West’s share of Hispanic population growth was 2 percentage points lower – or 34% – for the period between 2007 and 2014. This was largely driven by counties in the Mountain division, whose share of Hispanic growth declined to 9% for the period between 2007 and 2014 – down from 12% for the period between 2000 and 2007.

Counties in the Midwest made up a slightly declining share of Hispanic population growth since 2000, but this was largely driven by small declines in the East North Central division, which includes counties in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Between 1990 and 2000, and again between 2000 and 2007, counties in the Midwest accounted for 10% of the Hispanic population growth. This share declined to 9% during the period between 2007 and 2014.

  1. The Great Recession began in December 2007 and lasted until June 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Business Cycle Dating Committee, which defines national recessions.
  2. The median total population for these counties with 1,000-9,999 Hispanics in 1990 exceeded the median county population size of about 22,000 people. For example, the three largest counties with 1,000-9,999 Hispanics had populations of at least 900,000. They were Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (with 1.3 million residents); St. Louis County, Missouri (994,000); and Franklin County, Ohio (961,000).
  3. Northeast, Midwest, South and West refer to census regions that divide the U.S. into groups for analyses. Likewise, census divisions divide the country into nine different areas for group analyses. See terminology for a list of the states included in each of the regions and divisions.
  4. Change is calculated prior to rounding.