Hispanics now outnumber African-Americans for the first time in most U.S. metropolitan areas, shifting the political and racial dynamics in cities once dominated by whites and blacks.
Census figures released Thursday highlight the growing diversity of the nation's 366 metro areas, which were home to a record 83.7 percent share of the U.S. population. The numbers from the 2010 count are already having a big effect on redistricting in many states, where district boundary lines are being redrawn based on population size and racial makeup.
Hispanics became the largest minority group in 191 metropolitan areas last year, their population lifted higher as blacks left many economically hard-hit cities in the North for the South and new Latino immigrants spread to different parts of the country. That's up from 159 metro areas when the previous Census was taken in 2000, when Hispanics were most commonly found in Southwest border states.
The new metro areas include Chicago; Grand Rapids, Mich. and Atlantic City, N.J., whose states will lose U.S. House seats in the 2012 elections. Other places seeing rapid Hispanic gains compared to blacks were Lakeland, Fla.; Madison, Wis.; Oklahoma City and Omaha, Neb., due to the mid-decade housing boom that attracted many new immigrants seeking work in the construction and service industries.
The Census Bureau reported last month that overall Hispanic population jumped 42 percent in the last decade to 50.5 million, or 1 in 6 Americans. Blacks increased a modest 11 percent to 37.7 million, with declines particularly evident in big cities such as New York, Detroit, Cleveland, and St. Louis, Mo.
"A greater Hispanic presence is now evident in all parts of the country -- in large and small metropolitan areas, in the Snowbelt and in the Sunbelt," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, who analyzed the census data. "From now on, local, state and national politicians will need to pay attention to Hispanics rather than treating blacks as the major minority," he said.
The political effects have been immediate. Analysts and black groups -- including some members of the Congressional Black Caucus themselves -- are acknowledging the possibility of fewer black-majority House districts, even as they fight to preserve, if not expand, their gains. That's because of slowing African-American growth in big cities and broader black movement over the last decade into once predominantly white suburbs.
Currently there are 43 members in the Congressional Black Caucus, which is mostly Democrat. Last November, blacks had a net gain of two seats in the House, including Republicans Allen West of Florida, who is a caucus member, and Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is not.
Republicans generally hold the advantage in redrawing the political maps after taking control of legislatures in many states in last November's elections. But many black legislators are pushing for strong enforcement of the federal Voting Rights Act from the Obama Justice Department, which must preapprove political maps for several states and ensure that minority voting power is not unreasonably diluted.
--In Missouri, Republican legislators have drawn up a redistricting map that would place Democratic Reps. William Lacy Clay, a Congressional Black Caucus member, and Russ Carnahan, who is white, in the same urban St. Louis district. Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has not said whether he would sign or veto such a plan.
--In Virginia, which is 20 percent black, the House's majority Republicans and the Senate's Democratic majority are at odds over whether to keep only one of its 11 U.S. House districts mostly black or add a second one. Republicans want to pack many of the state's black voters into the district of African-American Rep. Bobby Scott; Democrats hope to spread many of the black voters into a new black-majority district now represented by white Republican J. Randy Forbes.
--Ohio is one of two states losing a pair of seats, but it has only one black-majority district held by Rep. Marcia Fudge in Cleveland. It's doubtful GOP legislators will eliminate the district entirely, but there's a chance they could do away with a neighboring seat, setting up a potential race between Fudge and fellow Democrat Dennis Kucinich, who is white.
--Members of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus are challenging a new map that preserves five U.S. House Republican districts and one majority black district, saying they want a second black-majority district in a state that is one-third black. The plan, which passed the legislature Wednesday with the support of GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal, now heads to the Justice Department for review.
"The demographic phenomenon we're seeing could cause some big concerns in terms of African-American seats," said Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services, citing improvements in racial integration between blacks and whites in many metro areas that will make line-drawing more difficult. "It's likely to make changes on how we view African-American seats."
In general, Republicans tend to favor packing minorities into a few districts, because it often affords a larger concentration of Republican-leaning whites in the remaining districts. Democrats typically support spreading sizable numbers of blacks among several districts to make otherwise Republican-leaning districts more competitive, even though that means election of minority candidates is less assured.
Frey described a new kind of politics potentially emerging that moves beyond racial lines, as seen in the recent mayoral election in Chicago, which is now evenly divided among whites, blacks and Hispanics. In that race, Chicago voters rejected the so-called "consensus" black candidate and two Hispanic candidates in favor of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who is white.
The figures released Thursday show that the white share of the population declined in all 366 metro areas, while all but five showed gains in Asian population shares -- Honolulu (slipping from 45 percent to 43 percent), El Centro, Calif.; Sioux City, Iowa; Logan, Utah; and Kokomo, Ind.
U.S. metro areas showing the biggest drops in white shares due to rapid Hispanic growth over the last decade were Napa, Calif. (69 to 54 percent); Las Vegas (60 to 48 percent) and Orlando, Fla. (65 to 53 percent).