Partners (Fall 2002)

Changing Demographics
in the Sixth District

By Jessica LeVeen

Immigration patterns have changed significantly in the past 10 years with the immigrant population no longer residing primarily in California, Texas, and Florida. While six states still have the majority of the country’s immigrant population, greater dispersion has occurred as many immigrants look to new regions in pursuing job opportunities.

The southeastern region, with the exception of Florida, has not drawn significant immigrant populations historically. However, in the past 10 years, several states within the boundaries of the Federal Reserve System’s Sixth District have emerged as some of the fastest growing centers in the country.

Immigrant Populations in the Sixth District

Hispanics represent the largest number of recent immigrants to the Sixth District’s states of Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Across the Sixth District, the U.S. Census reports approximately 3.5 million new Hispanics to the region between 1990 and 2000 — a 90% increase.

As might be expected, the largest growth occurred in Florida with approximately 2.7 million new Hispanics between 1990 and 2000. In 2000, Hispanics represented 17% of Florida’s population, with the majority being Cuban and Puerto Rican. Relatively fewer are Mexican.

The absolute number of new Hispanic immigrants in the other Sixth District states is much lower, and Hispanics still represent a small percentage of the total state population. In 2000, Georgia had the highest concentration of Hispanics, representing 5% of the total population. In the remaining Sixth District states, Hispanics only account for approximately 2% of the total population.

Despite the lower numbers compared with Florida, the growth rates in these other states have been dramatic making the presence of Hispanic immigrants very noticeable in some communities. The 2000 Census shows that Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee were three of the fastest growing states nationwide for Hispanics, with the population increasing in each state by 200% to 300% in the last decade. In these states, the Hispanic population is primarily from Mexico or several other Central America countries.

Hispanic Population Growth in Rural Areas

Several small rural communities have unexpectedly become regional centers for Hispanics due to an exponential population growth. One example is Dalton, Georgia, where the proportion of Hispanics has grown from 6% of the city’s population in 1990 to almost 40% in 2000. Dalton’s floor-covering industry provides employment opportunities for Hispanics coming to the region, and many have chosen to settle and bring their families.

Similar growth has occurred on a smaller scale in other rural communities across the Sixth District. Hispanics have been drawn to the region primarily because of the availability of jobs — a large number of which would otherwise remain unfilled. In rural communities, many Hispanics have found jobs in meatpacking and poultry processing plants, agriculture, construction, food service, and manufacturing. While many of these jobs require lower skills and offer lower wages as a result, the industries are no less vital to the U.S. economy.

Many Hispanics who originally came to the South as migrant farm workers have since settled when they could find more permanent employment. The early Hispanic immigrants were generally young men, but increasingly, more families are relocating and creating permanent communities of Hispanic immigrants.

Many established communities now have successful stores, restaurants, and services that cater to the Hispanic population — and provide economic development opportunities as a result. Over time, many workers have pursued such opportunities to create a better life for their family, including homeownership and other asset accumulation means. These tactics help provide further stimulus to both local and regional economies.

Adjusting to Changing Demographics

The increasing Hispanic population challenges many of the new-growth communities. These communities typically do not have the service infrastructure in place to handle the population growth. Social service providers, public schools, and local businesses are confronted by the lack of resources to serve the Hispanic community and to address the cultural and language barriers. Many Hispanics report the same challenges of the lack access to healthcare, social services, adequate housing, transportation, and banking services.

Clearly, there has been an important change in immigration patterns across the country in the past 10 years, and the growth is likely to continue as the need for workers continues in various industries.

The role of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Community Affairs program is to help promote effective community development lending and investment programs and fair and impartial access to credit throughout the entire District. The most effective way this occurs is by facilitating partnerships among entities such as financial institutions, nonprofits / community service providers, housing developers, and governmental agencies. The starting point is to understand the demographics and needs of our communities — both dynamic factors that often present many challenges.


Return to Index