Latinos' share of population rising

Census data from last year’s count is bringing into focus a demographic commonality the State of Illinois, Cook County and the City of Chicago increasingly share: the steady growth of the Latino community, both adults and children.

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau earlier this month show that statewide more than 23 percent of all children under the age of 18 are of Latino origin, with that number rising to nearly 41 percent in Chicago. The Latino Policy Forum, a research and advocacy organization based in Chicago laid out the data for the state and city in a chart. Take a look:

In Cook County, the Chicago Tribune reported, one in three children under the age of 5 is Latino.

The demographic trends have “tremendous implications,” said Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum.

Puente told the Reporterlast week the census findings demonstrate the extent to which the future economic vitality of Illinois and the Chicago region will hinge on ensuring children, including the Latino children in school today, have access to quality education, especially for the youngest learners.

Access right now is not keeping up with demand. “Fewer [Latino] children have access to early childhood education. More children are starting school behind,” Puente said.

A study published last year by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found that Latino children under age 4 were less likely to be enrolled in preschool. In a survey of 380 families with newborns, the researchers found just 35 percent of Latino 4-year-olds were attending a preschool center, compared with 54 percent and 66 percent of African-American and white children, respectively.

That finding comports with a 2007 brief by the Latino Policy Forum, which found that 35.6 percent of eligible Latino children participated in preschool in Illinois.

Both studies hit the the lack of facilities for early childhood education. The “low enrollment rate of Latino children appears to stem in part from constrained supply,” the Berkeley paper said. And last year, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that just one in three Latino parents can find a preschool slot for their child.

For adult Latinos and Latino immigrants, Puente said one issue her organization is focusing on ensuring smooth integration of these populations into areas perhaps unaccustomed to new immigrants. It’s harder, she said, in the suburbs than the city.

“Chicago has a much more robust infrastructure in terms of understanding immigrants–Chicago has always been a city of immigrants,” Puente said. “Whereas there are many, many fewer organizations in the suburbs that directly work with immigrants.”

“It requires changes on the part of immigrants and Latinos to adapt to the new dynamics of a new community but also change on the part of municipalities,” she went on to say. “That’s part of where we run into resistance. People sometimes feel, well, the community doesn’t have to change.”

© Community Renewal Society 2011

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