Latino Population Growth and the Arizona Nativism

Texas A&M University social demographer and sociologist Rogelio Saenz has some revealing statistical data in his recent Population Reference Bureau piece titled “Latinos, Whites, and the Shifting Demography of Arizona”: He first notes the dramatic growth in the population of Arizona, bringing the state up to near seven million people today as now the 14th-largest U.S. state. Among these

Latinos accounted for two-fifths of the nearly 3.8 million people added to the state’s population between 1980 and 2008…. The share of Arizona’s growth due to Latinos has grown significantly across the last three decades while the growth due to whites has declined…. The percentage of Arizonans who are Latino increased from 16 percent in 1980 to 30 percent in 2008. In contrast, the share of the state’s population that is white declined from 75 percent in 1980 to 58 percent in 2008.

He also provides this striking chart, which has major political-economic implications:

As he points out about this chart,

Whites account for over half of the state’s population ages 35 and older and make up at least 80 percent of those in elderly age categories. . . . In contrast, Latinos outnumber whites in the two youngest age groups (0 to 4 and 5 to 9). While the median age of the white population is 43, it is only 26 among Latinos.

This racial-age polarization has significant implications. A majority of active voters and political activists now are still white, while the population that will eventually be that majority of voters and activists is not white, indeed is very substantially Latino. Many Arizona whites have also been the ones so aggressively seeking SB1070-type legislation to reduce the (already significantly declining because of the Bush depression) number of Latinos in the state, with some of them supporting violence against these immigrants in the form of armed groups patrolling the border.

One of the sad ironies in all this is that most of the Mexican immigrants, especially the undocumented, in Arizona actually do much work for whites, to make their middle class lives (houses, restaurants, etc) more affordable and thus to buttress white middle-class affluence. One has to wonder who will do much of this hard and dirty work in Arizona if the immigrants are driven out.

Saenz also notes certain critical larger national and international “boxes” within which the Mexican immigration has taken place:

The families of many Latinos in the state have been there for generations. Furthermore, globalization, the expansion of economies across international borders, and the aging of the populations of developed countries all stimulate the movement of people into places such as Arizona.