Nebraska’s Hispanic/Latino population is exploding. A report released last week by the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research (CPAR) predicts the number of Hispanic/Latinos in the state will more than triple by the year 2050.
Nebraska's Growing Hispanic Population
|Total NE Pop.||Hispanics||% of Total|
(sources: U.S. Census and UNO CPAR)
David Drozd of the UNO Center for Public Affairs Research (Mike Tobias/NET News photo)
“It means that Hispanics and Latinos are the main engine of population growth not only in the country and in the state,” said Lissette Aliaga-Linares, a research associate in the UNO Office of Latino/Latin American Studies.
What’s fueling the engine? First, although the state’s overall population will grow, the number of Nebraskans considered white/non-Hispanic is predicted to decline by more than 100,000 between now and 2050, with the aging of the baby boomer generation. There has been a lot of migration of Hispanic/Latinos to Nebraska in previous decades, but this will actually slow in the future.
“So going forward, it’s not going to be immigration necessarily that drives Hispanic/Latino growth, but natural change,” according to David Drozd, research coordinator for the UNO Center for Public Affairs Research.“So while in the 1990s we had people coming here and then maybe later on brought their spouses and things like that after the initial wave of coming here for jobs, now people are having families and you have people born in the early 1990s hitting age 20, 25 and starting their own families. So the births being so much higher than the deaths will take the population of Hispanic/Latino higher into the future.”
Plus, the Hispanic/Latino population already here is likely to stay. Partially for reasons that make Nebraska attractive to anyone: jobs, cost of living, low crime and good schools. But also for reasons more related to culture.
“Latinos tend to stay together as families,” said Lazaro Arturo Spindola, executive director of the Nebraska Latino American Commission. “We place a very high value on the family unit. So young people tend to stay close to their families. Even if they go to the college, they try to go to a college that is close by their household.”
That’s the case for the Ramirez family of Lincoln. Marty and Connie Ramirez have seven children, all college graduates and 12 grandchildren, and almost all live close to home. Marty grew up in Scottsbluff, the son of a Mexican immigrant. He went on to earn a doctorate in psychology and work as a counselor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“We’ve followed the American dream, in spite of all the barriers,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez has seen almost 70 years of the evolution of Nebraska’s Hispanic/Latino population. He’s experienced racism, advocated for change and been both an observer and contributor to the growth of this population.
“This is not going to go away. I don’t care what people think or believe,” Ramirez added. “So we need to take a step back and begin to have some dialogue of the reality of what’s really going on. It’s not a Mexican thing, it’s a human phenomenon, a human being issue that at times is very difficult to talk about.”
Ramirez and others say the state’s institutions - business, government, education, religion - need to address this growing Hispanic/Latino population.
“The business world gets it,” Ramirez said. “The educational world gets it. The political world is getting it. Religion, some are getting it and some don’t.”
“It’s time to make a critical point of in every policy to look for solutions and ways to incorporate the Latino population within the state,” Aliaga-Linares said. “It’s a population that has its own challenges. You have parents, for example, who don’t speak English very well.”
“There are disparities between the Latino population and the white majority population,” Spindola said. “Disparities in health care, disparities in income, disparities in education. I believe the state authorities will need to address some of these disparities. Either to figure out why they’re happening or how to correct them. Some of them are still in the denial phase, where you think if you ignore the problem the problem will go away. The first mistake is to consider this a problem.”
Spindola said it’s also important to help Hispanic/Latinos attack these challenges themselves. “Many of the things could be addressed by the Latino population,” he said. “They could become part of the solution. But so far they have not been readily approached in a culturally and linguistically appropriate way to seek these solutions.”
There is no doubt that it’s complicated. Although counted as a group, it’s a mistake to assume the needs, experiences and background of all Hispanic/Latinos are the same. Spindola, who was born in Cuba and grew up in Venezuela, jokes the first time he ate Mexican food was in Nebraska.
“As we have tried to apply traditional solutions to many of the problems, they don’t seem to work,” Spindola continued. “Because they don’t seem to get to the heart and the minds of the Latino individuals.”
“It’s very complex, it’s convoluted, it’s blurry, but it’s going to be profound,” Ramirez added.
The predicted growth of Nebraska’s Hispanic/Latino population is just that, a prediction. Experts say there are unknowns that could change the numbers, like the impact of potential immigration reform policy. But after Nebraska’s Hispanic/Latino population increased by 77 percent in the last decade, few doubt more growth is in the future.
Other Nebraska population notes (from UNO Center for Public Affairs Research):
- Nebraska has 13 counties in four “metro” areas (Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island and Sioux Cities). Nebraska’s 80 “non-metro” counties have less population today than in 1890.
- Nebraska’s “Big 3” counties (Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy) account for 53 percent of the state’s population and as a result 25 of the 49 seats in the Nebraska Unicameral.
- 74 percent of Nebraska counties lost population in the 2000s, second only to North Dakota (79 percent) among Great Plains states.
- In the 2010 census, the category White/Non-Hispanic accounted for 82 percent of Nebraska's population. The CPAR predicts that this will decline to 62 percent by 2050, with the significant increase in the Hispanic population, but also a increase of the Black/Non-Hispanic population from 80,959 (2010) to 145,148 (2050).