I. Overview

Rather than clustering in ethnic enclaves, Census data show that most Latinos live scattered through neighborhoods where they are a small share of the population. Some 20 million Hispanics—57 percent of the total—lived in neighborhoods in which Hispanics made up less than half of the population at the time of the 2000 census. These Latinos lived in census tracts where only seven percent of residents were Hispanics on average. This pattern of dispersal even holds for Latino immigrants and for low-income Hispanics although to a somewhat lesser degree.1

Of course, this leaves a sizeable share of the Hispanic population—43 percent—in neighborhoods where Latinos are a majority. These communities are large, and the Hispanic population that lives in such neighborhoods is growing faster than the Hispanic population that lives dispersed among non-Hispanics. A comparison of data from the 1990 and 2000 census counts shows that as the size of the Hispanic population increased in big cities with already large Hispanic populations, such as New York and Los Angeles, these majority-Latino neighborhoods spread across the urban landscape. Although such neighborhoods where Latinos dominate can be highly visible and sometimes controversial, they are not the norm for the Latino population.

Thus, the recent growth of the Hispanic population has produced two countervailing trends in residential settlement: dispersal and concentration. The increase of the Hispanic population between 1990 and 2000 was almost equally shared between neighborhoods where Latinos are a majority of residents (6.5 million) and neighborhoods where they are a minority (6.9 million). As of 2000, however, more Hispanics were dispersed than were concentrated. Moreover, a variety of different types of Latinos— immigrant and native born, poor and middle class—live in predominately Hispanic neighborhoods.

The Hispanic population is classified as a minority group, and it is growing rapidly through immigration. On both scores questions arise about patterns of residential settlement: Are Latinos segregated into neighborhoods where they constitute the dominant population? What are the characteristics of Latinos who live in neighborhoods populated mostly by non-Hispanics? In order to help resolve these and other related questions, the Pew Hispanic Center conducted an analysis of data from the 2000 census. Each of the nation’s more than 65,000 census tracts was sorted according to whether or not Latinos constituted a half or more of the population in the tract. Then, the characteristics of the Hispanic population in what we have termed “majority-Latino” tracts were contrasted to those in “minority-Latino” tracts. Further analysis examined the residential distribution of the Hispanic population in these kinds of tracts in the 1990 census to determine how patterns changed over the course of a decade. In addition, this analysis was applied to states where large numbers of Latinos have lived for many years and to states that have recently experienced rapid growth of the Hispanic population to determine whether these residential patterns differed in traditional and new settlement areas.

Overall, this analysis shows that by a significant measure most Latinos live in communities that they share with non-Latinos. And, while majority-Latino neighborhoods are large and growing, especially in the nation’s biggest cities, those neighborhoods contain a mix of native-born and foreign-born Latinos, Spanish speakers and English speakers, the poor and the middle class. On balance, Balkanization is not the defining trend. Most Latinos are not conglomerating into densely packed, highly homogenous communities characterized by a prevalence of Spanish-language and immigrant cultures. Rather, most are living with non-Hispanics and even neighborhoods where Latinos dominate show considerable variety.

Some of the major findings:

  • In 2000 most Latinos, 57 percent, lived in neighborhoods where Latinos constituted less than half of the population while 43 percent lived in census tracts where Latinos were a majority of the population
  • By this measure the Hispanic population is somewhat less concentrated than the African-American population. Some 48 percent of the black population lived in tracts with a majority black population.
  • The number of Hispanics living in majority-Latino neighborhoods grew faster (76%) than the number in minority-Latino neighborhoods (51%) between 1990 and 2000.
  • A greater share of the Hispanic foreign-born population (48%) lived in majority- Latino neighborhoods than the native-born (39%). But, most people in both nativity categories lived in minority-Latino neighborhoods.
  • Language is a powerful factor in neighborhood distribution. Over three-quarters of Latinos who speak only English lived in minority-Latino neighborhoods. Spanish-monolingual Latinos were more evenly divided between neighborhoods where Latinos predominate and those where they do not.
  • Spanish is spoken to some degree by most Hispanics living in neighborhoods where Latinos are the majority population, but English is also a strong presence. In 2000 more than half (58%) of the Latino residents of these neighborhoods were bilingual in English and Spanish and another sizeable share (14%) spoke only English. Individuals who spoke only Spanish constituted a little more than a quarter (28%) of the population in census tracts where more than half of the residents were Hispanics.
  • Although Latinos with higher incomes are more likely to live in minority-Latino neighborhoods, all income ranges are well represented both in majority- and minority-Latino communities.
  • Nearly half of the Latino population living in poverty was located in communities where most of their neighbors are not Hispanics.
  • In states with large, long-standing Hispanic populations, Latinos were almost evenly divided between majority- and minority-Latino communities in 2000. In the new settlement states, however, the number of Hispanics in non-Latino neighborhoods was more than three times larger than the number in heavily Latino communities.