The Census Bureau says Harris County's minority population has increased faster than anywhere else in the country over the past several decades, fueled by black hurricane evacuees from Louisiana two years ago, and unrelenting immigration from all over the world. Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg says it's been breathtaking to watch.
"After 1982 with the oil bust, the Anglo population of Harris County stopped growing and then declined. And all the growth of Houston in the last quarter century has been immigration from Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean. And this city that had been a bi-racial southern city dominated by white men throughout all of its history has become over 25 years one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the country."
Hispanics now total almost 40 percent of the county population, about two percentage points ahead of Anglos. Klineberg says it's historic for a county to go from 70 percent Anglo to 36 percent Anglo in just 25 years, largely because of immigration.
"And it's not surprising that there's anxiety and discomfort among many people. It's not surprising that there's a resurgence of a kind of anti-immigrant backlash developing."
Klineberg says Harris County politics are still dominated by white Anglos, even though they're now a minority, but he believes that's going to change as Hispanics translate their numbers into political power.
"Number one, a whole bunch of the Hispanics who are here are not yet citizens, or are not citizens of the United States. A whole bunch of them have very low levels of education and education is the single most powerful predictor of whether you vote or not. But you can go to the bank on the understanding that every single election that you and I will see in the rest of our lifetime will find increasing proportions of Hispanics in the electorate."
Klineberg says there is a down side. He says he's worried by the fact that almost 90 percent of children in the Houston school district are Hispanic or non-Hispanic black, and 78 percent of all children qualify for the free lunch program. He says if Houston's minority children aren't prepared to succeed in the knowledge economy of the 21st century, it's hard to see a prosperous future for Houston. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.