A Profile of Hispanic Newcomers
to North Carolina

James H. Johnson, Jr., Karen D. Johnson-Webb,
and Walter C. Farrell, Jr.


Note: This file contains the text of an article which appeared in Popular Government, vol. 65, no. 1, Fall 1999, 2–12. Delineations within the text indicating titles and headings are preserved. No attempt has been made to display graphic images or pagination of the typeset article. Footnotes appear in brackets at the reference points in the text. Figures and tables have been omitted. A printed copy of this article may be obtained for a photocopying fee of $.10 per page, with a $2.00 minimum.

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Johnson is William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Management and Sociology, Johnson-Webb is a doctoral candidate in geography, and Farrell is a professor of social work and public health. All are at UNC-CH.


Historically, whites, blacks, and Native Americans have constituted a numerical majority of the population of North Carolina and the South generally. In recent years, however, population growth driven by immigration has dramatically transformed the racial and ethnic composition of the state and the region. Over the past two decades, newcomers to the state and the region have included substantial numbers of people who either were born in, or are offspring or descendants of people who were born in, Mexico, another Latin American country, or Southeast Asia. Between the two demographic groups represented by the newcomers, Hispanics constitute the larger and therefore the more visible one.

In this article we provide a general overview of the size and the composition of North Carolina’s Hispanic newcomers, describe their settlement patterns, and assess the response of other North Carolinians to the influx. We conclude by discussing several issues that must be addressed if the state is to avoid some of the tensions and the conflicts that have accompanied the settlement of Hispanics in communities like Los Angeles that have traditionally been gateways for immigrants.[1]

How Many Hispanics Are There in North Carolina?

Historically, Hispanics have settled in the southwest United States—mainly in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.[2] Until recently, only three states outside the Southwest—New York, New Jersey, and Florida—had large concentrations of this group. Since the early 1980s, however, a major redistribution of the Hispanic population has been afoot.[3] In the early 1990s, several states in the Midwest and the South experienced sharp increases in their Hispanic populations, their rates of growth outpacing those in the traditional gateway communities of the United States.[4]

North Carolina is one of these newly emerging magnets for Hispanics.[5] According to the most recent State of the South report, five of the thirty U.S. counties that experienced the most rapid growth in their Hispanic population between 1990 and 1996 were located in North Carolina—Wake, Mecklenburg, Forsyth, Guilford, and Durham (in order of percentage of growth, highest first).[6] The most current population estimates, compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, indicate that North Carolina’s Hispanic population increased by 95 percent between 1990 and 1997, from 76,726 to 149,390. During the same period, the Hispanic population of the entire United States and of the South increased by 31 percent and 35 percent, respectively. Moreover, North Carolina’s total population increased by only 12 percent.

Nevertheless, the influx of Hispanics into North Carolina actually began before the early 1990s. During the 1980s the state’s Hispanic population grew far more rapidly (35 percent) than its white (12 percent), black (10 percent), Native American (24 percent), and total (13 percent) populations.[7] By 1990 the number had reached 76,726.

In terms of this broader time span—1980 to 1997—the state’s Hispanic population increased by 164 percent. By comparison the state’s white, black, Native American, and total populations grew by only 26 percent, 25 percent, 48 percent, and 26 percent, respectively.[8] The rates of Hispanic population change for the nation and for the South were 101 percent and 105 percent, respectively, during this time span. In 1997, according to estimates compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 150,000 Hispanics were living in North Carolina.[9]

Breaking down the U.S. Census Bureau’s 1997 estimates of North Carolina’s total and Hispanic populations by age and sex reveals some striking contrasts. It is immediately apparent that the Hispanic population is much younger than the total population. Thirty-seven percent of the Hispanic population is under age eighteen compared with 25 percent of the total population. A similar disparity exists for the population ages eighteen through thirty-five. Nearly 40 percent of the Hispanics are in this age group but only 27 percent of the total population. Combining the statistics for these two age groups shows that 77 percent of the state’s Hispanic population is age thirty-five or under whereas only 52 percent of the state’s total population fits this age profile. For the elderly population (age sixty-five and up), the disparity is in the opposite direction. That is, there is a higher concentration of elderly people in the total population (13 percent) than in the Hispanic population (4 percent). Given the fact that young people are more inclined to migrate or immigrate than older people, the foregoing statistics, which hold for both the male and the female population of North Carolina, should not be surprising. Moreover, because most of the female Hispanic newcomers are in their peak childbearing years, the potential for continued growth of the state’s Hispanic population is enormous.

The following statistics are indicative of this growth potential. Data compiled by the Office of Minority Health in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reveal that Hispanic births in the state increased by 294 percent between 1990 and 1997. In 1997—a year when the Hispanic population made up only 2 percent of the state’s population—Hispanic births (6,017) accounted for 5.7 percent of all births (106,428) in North Carolina. Statistics generated by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction reveal that approximately 33,000 Hispanic children were enrolled in the state’s public schools in the 1997–98 academic year—a 250 percent increase over the previous year.[10] Before the 1980s most Hispanics migrating to North Carolina were seasonal, male agricultural workers. The foregoing data suggest that a large proportion of the more recent arrivals probably have brought along family members, including spouses and children, and that they have come to stay.

Given the U.S. Census Bureau’s history of under-counting minority and inner-city populations and undocumented aliens,[11] the statistics just cited probably greatly underestimate the size of North Carolina’s Hispanic population. The estimates derived by the Division of Women and Children’s Health, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, probably are more accurate than the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimates. On the basis of a survey conducted by that division at the time of the rubella outbreak in the state in 1996, the department estimated that the state’s Hispanic population totaled nearly 230,000.[12] Other recent estimates place North Carolina’s Hispanic population at 315,000.[13]

Where Have Hispanics Settled?

The state’s newcomers are settling mainly in two types of communities: (1) metropolitan[14] or “urban crescent” communities along the I-85 corridor, where most of North Carolina’s employment growth has occurred over the last fifteen years; and (2) the military complexes in Onslow County (Camp Lejeune) and Cumberland County (Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base).[15] Together these communities were home to almost half of the state’s Hispanic population in 1997.

However, analyses of 1997 county-level birth records suggest that Hispanics are beginning to settle in significant numbers beyond those areas. In fact, in 1996 the highest concentrations of Hispanic births occurred in five of the state’s nonmetropolitan counties: Duplin (25.8%), Lee (19.9%), Montgomery (17.6%), Sampson (15.9%), and Greene (13.6%).[16] In each of these jurisdictions, the Hispanic proportion of all births was considerably higher than the Hispanic proportion of all births in the state as a whole (5.7 percent). In only two of the state’s metropolitan counties—Chatham (17.0 percent) and Yadkin (12.0 percent)—was the percentage considerably higher than the statewide proportion. In short, these data suggest that Hispanics are settling throughout the state, in rural and urban communities.

Where Are Hispanics Coming From?

Additional information to determine where Hispanics are coming from will not be available until the 2000 census is completed. But data from the 1990 Census Public Use Microdata Samples (PUMS) file suggest that Hispanic newcomers, or “in-migrants,” to North Carolina are coming from two types of communities: Hispanic gateway communities in the United States, and other countries.[17] Between 1985 and 1990, the largest numbers of Hispanic in-migrants to North Carolina came from California, Texas, Florida, and New York, each accounting for 2,600 to 15,000. The next-largest numbers—700 to 2,600 each—arrived from New Jersey, Virginia, and Georgia. From 200 to 700 each came from another thirteen states.

According to the PUMS data, 8,873 Hispanics moved to the state from abroad between 1985 and 1990. Unfortunately the PUMS file does not identify specific points of origin for these international in-migrants. It contains information pertaining only to their ethnic ancestry. However, those data provide insights into where the Hispanic newcomers from abroad originated. We describe them in the next section.

Most of the Hispanics are coming to North Carolina to take advantage of employment opportunities in the state’s booming economy.[18] Given that the economic boom began in the early 1980s and continues today, it is reasonable to surmise that the influx of Hispanics from other states and other countries has intensified during the 1990s. Nonetheless, we must await the results of the 2000 census before we can confirm the relative magnitude of the flows. One thing is certain, however: North Carolina’s Hispanic population is growing rapidly, and only part of the growth can be explained by high birth rates among Hispanics who already live in the state.

Who Are the Hispanic Newcomers?

Like information on Hispanic interstate and international flows into North Carolina, detailed, up-to-date data on the ethnic and socioeconomic characteristics of the Hispanic newcomers must await completion of the 2000 census. Yet insights can be discerned from the 1990 PUMS data. In terms of ethnic origin, Hispanics of Mexican descent constituted the largest group of in-migrants to North Carolina between 1985 and 1990—43 percent. Puerto Ricans made up the second-largest group, accounting for 20 percent. Smaller percentages of Cubans, Central Americans, South Americans, Dominicans, and other Hispanics accounted for the balance. Puerto Ricans appeared to be overrepresented in the military towns.[19]

With regard to citizenship status, 69 percent of the Hispanics arriving in North Carolina between 1985 and 1990 were born in the United States, Puerto Rico, or another U.S. territory and therefore were presumably U.S. citizens. Three percent more were born abroad to American parents and therefore were presumably U.S. citizens too. Another 10 percent were naturalized citizens. Only 18 percent were not U.S. citizens. In 1990 the highest proportions of Hispanics who were born in the United States were in Onslow County (74.8 percent of all the Hispanics in that county) and the Piedmont Triad (64.1 percent of all the Hispanics in that area). Charlotte/Mecklenburg County (25.3%) and the Research Triangle (27.2%) had the greatest concentrations of Hispanic newcomers who were not U.S. citizens.[20]

In terms of years of school completed, the 1990 census revealed that North Carolina Hispanics, 43 percent of whom had less than a high school diploma, are generally less well educated than the state’s population as a whole, 40 percent of whom had less than a high school diploma. However, the Hispanics who have settled in the Triangle area are generally better educated than the statewide Hispanic population, one-quarter of them having completed college. The highest percentage of those with a high school diploma or some college education have settled in Onslow County and the Fayetteville/Fort Bragg/Cumberland County areas.[21]

What Kinds of Jobs Are the Hispanic Newcomers Getting?

Most of what is known about Hispanic employment patterns in North Carolina (outside of agricultural work) is based on studies of specific industries (for example, poultry and hog processing) or of local communities that have experienced a significant influx of Hispanics in recent years (for example, Siler City in Chatham County and Charlotte in Mecklenburg County).[22] To date, no systematic efforts have been undertaken to assess the overall employment impact of Hispanic migration to North Carolina.

To address this issue, we created an employment profile of the Hispanic population of North Carolina using 1990 PUMS occupational data. Although these data are somewhat dated, they are the best and most reliable source of information on the statewide employment patterns of North Carolina’s Hispanic population. For our purposes, we grouped occupations into the following categories, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau:[23]

We broke down our data according to Hispanic settlement patterns: those who resided in the two military communities and those who resided in the I-85 corridor communities. For comparison we also examined the statewide distribution of both total Hispanic employment and total employment.

Several patterns are apparent in these data. First, contrary to popular stereotypes, Hispanic workers were widely dispersed in the North Carolina economy in 1990. The statewide distribution indicates that North Carolina Hispanics were overrepresented in primary activities—as Hispanics are in communities outside North Carolina that have a substantial Hispanic presence. But unlike Hispanic workers in many other such communities, they also are overrepresented in social services and military service, occupations that pay higher wages. In addition, although Hispanics are underrepresented by statewide standards, they are substantially represented in transformative activities, especially construction.

The occupational distributions in the two types of communities that served as magnets for Hispanic in-migration between 1985 and 1990—military settings and the I-85 corridor communities—show radically different patterns. In the military settings, Hispanics are greatly overrepresented in military service occupations and underrepresented in all other occupational categories. In the I-85 corridor communities, Hispanics are overrepresented in the other occupational categories, compared with the pattern in military settings. Thus the typical image of a migrant farm worker or a gardener no longer applies to North Carolina’s Hispanic newcomers. They are distributed throughout the state’s economy, in both high- and low-wage occupations.

How Do Long-Term Residents Respond to Hispanic Newcomers?

Considerable tensions and conflicts over jobs, housing, schools, and other goods and services have accompanied the influx of Hispanics into gateway communities.[24] Anecdotal evidence and media accounts suggest that the same types of tensions and conflicts are emerging in North Carolina as the state’s Hispanic population expands. To gauge public attitudes toward Hispanic newcomers systematically, we analyzed data from the Spring 1996 Carolina Poll, conducted by The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism. It posed the following four questions (among others) to a sample of 655 North Carolinians:

    1. How comfortable are you with the influx of Hispanics into the state?
    2. How would your neighbors feel about Hispanics moving into your neighborhood?
    3. How comfortable are you around people who are not speaking English?
    4. How comfortable are you with the influx of northerners into the state?

In general, North Carolinians harbor negative feelings about the influx of Hispanics. Nearly half (42 percent) stated that they were uncomfortable with the increasing presence of Hispanics, about two-thirds (67 percent) said that they thought their neighbors would not approve of Hispanics moving into their neighborhood, and more than half (55 percent) said that they did not feel comfortable around people who do not speak English. Respondents did not express these sentiments at such high levels toward non-Hispanic in-migrants from the North. Only 26 percent said that the influx of northerners made them uncomfortable.

Significantly more North Carolinians who had no high school diploma (49 percent) were negative about the influx of Hispanics than were their more educated counterparts (35 percent). Also, more North Carolinians who lived in nonmetropolitan areas (45 percent) were negative about the Hispanic influx, compared with those who lived in the state’s metropolitan areas (39 percent). Significantly more of those who considered themselves to be Southerners and those who lived in the state at age sixteen, compared with newcomers to the region, harbored negative attitudes about Hispanics (46 percent and 49 percent respectively, versus 26 percent), and about northerners (28 percent and 30 percent respectively, versus 13 percent).

Responses varied significantly by region, but the pattern was not clear-cut. More of those in the Piedmont (45 percent) were uncomfortable with the Hispanic influx, compared with those on the coast (35 percent) and those in the mountains (37 percent). Almost equal proportions of residents of all three regions felt strongly that their neighbors would be uncomfortable with Hispanics moving into the neighborhood: mountain residents, 67 percent; coastal residents, 65 percent; and Piedmont residents, 66 percent. More residents of the coastal region (46 percent) appeared to be negative about non-English-speaking people, compared with Piedmont residents (33 percent) and mountain residents (42 percent).

Significantly more of those who were unemployed (60 percent) expressed negative attitudes toward the Hispanic influx than did their counterparts who were employed full-time (44 percent) and part-time (29 percent). When asked how their neighbors would feel about Hispanics moving into their neighborhoods, more whites than blacks (69 percent to 54 percent) expressed negative attitudes. More of those who were registered to vote had negative attitudes toward non-English-speaking newcomers than did those who were not registered to vote (56 percent to 52 percent). More males than females (44 percent to 40 percent) had negative attitudes toward the Hispanic influx. Further, more Republicans than Democrats or independents (66 percent, 46 percent, and 53 percent, respectively) harbored negative feelings toward non-English-speaking newcomers.

These responses and attitudes do not bode well for North Carolina Hispanics. Nearly one-half of them live in the communities that are magnets for migration. The I-85 corridor communities lie within the Piedmont, and more residents of this region (45 percent) expressed negative attitudes, compared with residents of the coastal region (35 percent) and the mountain region (37 percent). Generally, however, more nonmetropolitan respondents had negative attitudes toward Hispanics than did metropolitan respondents (45 percent to 39 percent). This may be fortunate for the large number of Hispanic newcomers who are concentrated in metropolitan areas in North Carolina. The negativity of unemployed North Carolinians about the Hispanic influx suggests that ethnic tensions related to the labor market may be festering.

The range of groups that expressed negative feelings about Hispanics is very broad. What is alarming is how openly these views were expressed. Respondents tend to temper their responses when similar questions are posed about blacks, in all probability to avoid appearing racist.[25] Yet these same concerns do not appear to be present when they are discussing immigrants—in this case, Hispanics.

What Do These Findings Tell Us?

From the preceding analyses, we can make the following generalizations about North Carolina’s Hispanic population during the past two decades:

What Are the Implications of The Findings?

These findings have several practical and policy implications. First, North Carolina communities urgently need to develop human relations policies to deal with the negative attitudes toward Hispanic newcomers uncovered in the Carolina Poll. If such attitudes exist in times of economic growth and prosperity, one can imagine the depth and the intensity of the backlash should the state’s economy experience a downturn. Initiatives to nurture and improve relations between Hispanic newcomers and long-term residents will enhance North Carolina’s image as a world-class community and its competitiveness in the global marketplace.

Second, in attempting to design effective human relations policies, state and local policy makers must recognize the diversity that exists within the Hispanic newcomer population. Recognition of this diversity will help North Carolinians provide better services to Hispanics and integrate Hispanics more readily into southern culture. Although most Hispanics settling in North Carolina are of Mexican ancestry, they come from different parts of Mexico, ranging from geographically isolated rural villages to Mexico City, one of the oldest, most populous, and most cosmopolitan cities in the Western Hemisphere. Other Hispanic newcomers are from communities in Central America or other parts of Latin America with unique ethnic and cultural backgrounds. And although the Hispanic newcomers from other U.S. jurisdictions, such as California, Texas, and New York, are likely to be familiar with American culture and institutions, they may not fully understand southern culture.

Third, in an era of dwindling revenues from state and federal sources, local governments will have to develop innovative ways to deal with the increased demand for social and public services that accompanies an influx of immigrants into a community. Given the demographic and social makeup of the Hispanic newcomer population, described earlier, the demand for health care and education services, including English-as-a-second-language classes, will increase sharply. This will be a major challenge for the nonmetropolitan counties where Hispanic births are on the rise. Already, many of these communities are showing signs that they are ill equipped to handle service provision for their long-term residents, many of whom, like the Hispanic newcomers, are members of North Carolina’s growing legion of the working poor.[26]

In June 1998, Governor James B. Hunt, Jr., signed an executive order creating an Advisory Council on Hispanic/Latino Affairs. What is needed now is a strategic, long-range plan that will allow this advisory council, in collaboration with other state and local community stakeholders, to mobilize the requisite resources to address the practical and public policy issues associated with the increasing diversity of North Carolina’s population. Only through such efforts will the state be able to enjoy the fruits of its growing Hispanic presence.


Notes

1. James H. Johnson, Jr., Walter C. Farrell, Jr., and Chandra Guinn, “Immigration Reform and the Browning of America: Tensions, Conflict, and Community Instability,” in The Handbook of International Migration, ed. C. Hirschman, J. DeWind, and Phillip Kasinite (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, forthcoming).

2. James H. Johnson, Jr., Karen D. Johnson-Webb, and Walter C. Farrell, Jr., “Newly Emerging Hispanic Communities in the U.S.: A Spatial Analysis of Settlement Patterns, In-Migration Fields, and Social Receptivity,” in Immigration and Opportunity: Race, Ethnicity and Employment in the United States, ed. F. D. Bean and S. Bell-Rose (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, in press).

3. William H. Frey and Kao L. Liaw, “Immigrant Concentration and Domestic Migrant Dispersal: Is Movement to Nonmetropolitan Areas ‘White Flight’?,” Professional Geographer 50, no. 2 (April 1998): 215–32; Johnson, Johnson-Webb, and Farrell, “Newly Emerging Hispanic Communities.”

4. Johnson, Johnson-Webb, and Farrell, “Newly Emerging Hispanic Communities.”

5. Karen D. Johnson-Webb, “Hispanics Are Changing North Carolina . . .,” Journal of Common Sense 5, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 8–12; Karen D. Johnson-Webb and James H. Johnson, “North Carolina Communities in Transition: The Hispanic Influx,” North Carolina Geographer 5 (Winter 1996): 21–40.

6. MDC, Inc., The State of the South (Sept. 1998), available at http://www.mdcinc.org

7. It should be noted that the rate of growth of North Carolina’s Hispanic population was slower than the rate of growth of the Hispanic population in the nation (53 percent) and in the South (51 percent) during this period. It also should be noted that North Carolina’s Asian population grew more rapidly (146 percent) than its Hispanic population during this period. However, the absolute numbers of this population were smaller, and the Asians were more widely dispersed geographically than the Hispanics were.

8. Again, as in the 1980s, the Asian population grew more rapidly than the Hispanic population, but the absolute numbers of Asian newcomers were smaller than those of Hispanic newcomers and thus had less of an impact on the social geography of the state.

9. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Population Division, Population Estimates Program, Estimates of the Population of Counties by Race and Hispanic Origin: July 1, 1997 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 4, 1998).

10. Andrea Bazan-Manson, comp., “1996 Latino Births” (data from Center for Health Statistics, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services); “Public School Enrollment Data” (data from N.C. Department of Public Instruction) (reports compiled and prepared under auspices of Office of Minority Health, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, April 1998) (hereinafter “Birth and School Enrollment Data”).

11. Juanita Tomayo Lott, Asian Americans: From Racial Category to Multiple Identities (Walnut Creek, Calif.: Altamira Press, 1998).

12. Andrea Bazan-Manson, comp., “1996 County Population Estimates of Latinos” (data from Division of Women and Children’s Health, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Local Health Department Survey, 1996) (report compiled and prepared under auspices of Office of Minority Health, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, April 1998).

13. Mark R. Sills, Hispanics in North Carolina: Introduction to Our New Neighbors (Greensboro, N.C.: Kairos Publications, for Faith in Action Institute, 1999).

14. The U.S. Census Bureau defines a “metropolitan” area as one having at least “one city with 50,000 or more inhabitants, or a Census Bureau–defined urbanized area (of at least 50,000 inhabitants) and a total metropolitan population of at least 100,000 (75,000 in New England).” U.S. Census Bureau Web site, available at http://www.census.gov/population/www/estimates/aboutmetro.html. Counties that do not meet these criteria are considered non-metropolitan.

15. Johnson-Webb and Johnson, “North Carolina Communities.”

16. Bazan-Manson, “Birth and School Enrollment Data.”

17. Johnson-Webb and Johnson, “North Carolina Communities.” In-migrants may or may not be immigrants. They are people who moved in, in this case, to North Carolina.

18. Johnson-Webb, “Hispanics Are Changing North Carolina . . . .”; Johnson-Webb and Johnson, “North Carolina Communities.”

19. Johnson-Webb and Johnson, “North Carolina Communities.”

20. Johnson-Webb and Johnson, “North Carolina Communities.”

21. U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Census of Population and Housing, 1990: Public Use Microdata Samples,” in Technical Documentation (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993) (hereinafter “PUMS file”).

22. David C. Griffith, Jones’ Minimal: Low-Wage Labor in the United States (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993); Kimberly Levin et al., “A Community Diagnosis of the Latino Community in Siler City” (secondary data document, School of Public Health, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Feb. 1995); United Way of Central Carolinas, “Hispanic Needs Survey. The Hispanic Program” (report, UWCC, Aug. 1995).

23. PUMS file.

24. James H. Johnson, Jr., and Walter C. Farrell, Jr., “The Fire This Time: The Genesis of the Los Angeles Rebellion of 1992,” North Carolina Law Review 71, no. 5 (June 1993): 1403–20; Johnson, Farrell, and Guinn, “Im-migration Reform”; Johnson, Johnson-Webb, and Farrell, “Newly Emerging Hispanic Communities”; Melvin Oliver and James H. Johnson, Jr., “Interethnic Conflict in an Urban Ghetto: The Case of Blacks and Latinos in Los Angeles,” Research in Social Movements 6 (1984): 57–94.

25. Ben Stocking, “Hispanic Wave Has Tarheels on Edge, Poll Shows,” Raleigh News & Observer, March 3, 1996, p. A1.

26. Johnson-Webb, “Hispanics Are Changing North Carolina . . . .”

 


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