Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Non-Hispanic whites in Florida accounted for fewer than half of all children younger than 5 last year

Chris Echegaray:

The youngest Anglo children in Hillsborough County and across Florida are now a minority, foreshadowing the day when Florida - like four states now - becomes a majority-minority state.

Non-Hispanic whites in Florida accounted for fewer than half of all children younger than 5 last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released today. Slightly more than 47 percent of the state's youngest children were non-Hispanic whites, down from nearly 55 percent five years earlier.

In Hillsborough County, non-Hispanic white children have become a minority also, making up less than 47 percent of the population younger than 5, down from nearly 51 percent in 2000.

In parts of the county, the trend was evident before this report. The Hillsborough County school district reported nonwhite enrollment of 55 percent in 2004. At St. John Presbyterian Learning Center, students move between two worlds, speaking English and Spanish and adjusting based on when their families moved here.

Out of 100 children at the learning center, 75 are nonwhite, many in families that moved here from Colombia, Cuba, Mexico or Puerto Rico, Director Dianne Patterson said. The numbers have been high for five years because the center, at 4120 N. MacDill Ave., attracts low-income families, which are predominantly nonwhite.

"The children learn the language very rapidly," said Patterson, who adapted by hiring staff to reflect the student population. "Having a lot of Spanish-speakers is the trend all over. We have 4- and 5-year-olds interpreting for their parents."

The impact of the population shift will be felt in school and health-care systems that may not be prepared, demographers say.

Children who live in minority neighborhoods and are not exposed to mainstream society - by attending child care or prekindergarten, for example - will struggle with language and assimilation, said Mark Mather, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau.

"It won't be an immediate impact," Mather said. "Once they start going through the school system, there will be more demand for language courses. Some are assimilating more than other certain groups, who are more likely to live in minority enclaves.

"I'm speaking mainly of Hispanics and Asians," Mather added. "There will be more challenges for those groups, the schools and medical systems."

The recent Census estimates come from the American Community Survey, the cornerstone of the government's effort to keep tabs on the nation's changing population. The new survey will provide demographic, socio-economic and housing information about America's communities every year - information that until now was only available once a decade.

Texas, the Census Bureau reported in August 2005, joined Hawaii, New Mexico and California as a majority-minority state. Eight other states with minority populations of about 40 percent today were expected to join them next - Maryland, Mississippi, New York, Georgia, Arizona, Louisiana and Florida.

Some demographers expect the U.S. population as a whole to reach that plateau by 2050.

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