Washington Sociodemographic Characteristics
Several factors have contributed to the increase in Latin Americans in Washington State over the past 20 years. These include migration, location in the state, age structure of the population, poverty, and education. Data from 2000 suggests that about 38.5 percent of the Latin American population in Washington State is foreign-born. These foreign-born Latin Americans increased by 300 percent from 40,454 in 1990 to 169,206 in 2000. Though some of these Latin Americans have arrived within the past 5 years, others have been living in the state for decades. Current population estimates indicate that approximately 21 percent of the Latin American population living in Washington arrived between 1990 and 2000. In addition, the Latinos settling there are much more likely to come from Mexico than other Latin American countries.5
There are 36 counties in the state of Washington, some of which are more affected by the rapid growth of Latin Americans than others. For example, counties in the central basin area of Washington, which include Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin, Grant, and Yakima, have Latino populations that range from
20.1 to 47.2 percent. Okanogan, Skagit, and Walla Walla counties have experienced a Latin American population increase ranging from 10 to 20 percent. Neither western nor eastern Washington has seen a significant shift in the Latin American population. However, some of these counties such as King, Pierce, and Snohomish, along the Pacific Coast already had a sizable Latino population prior to the 1990s and experienced an increase of 15 to 26 percent into the early 2000s. The primary contributing factor to this influx is the Latino migrants’ employment in Washington’s extensive agricultural industry. The migration of young Latin Americans in Washington to work on the state’s many ranches and farms impacts the Latin American population’s age structure in the state. During the 1990s and early 2000s, the average age of the Latin American population in Washington State ranged from the late teens to early 20s. That statistic
considered, the population’s birth rate is also an important factor contributing to the increase in number of Latinos. Latin American women have an average of
2.7 children in comparison to white women, who have 1.8 children. This slightly higher fertility rate, in addition to the younger age of the state’s Latin American population and the annual increase of migrants to the state each year, suggest that Washington’s Latin American population will continue to experience rapid growth well into the early part of the twenty-first century.6
Also related to the rise in migration of Latin Americans to Washington State is the number of Latinos living in poverty and at low levels of education. Latin Americans in Washington State are more likely to live in poverty than the total population. In 2000 approximately 25 percent of Washington’s Latin American population lived in poverty, compared to only 10 percent of the total population. Specifically in 2000, 30 percent of Latino children in Washington lived in poverty, compared to 14 percent of the total population.
Education is often thought to prevent people from living in poverty by providing individuals with tools and skills to attain better employment and better access to health care, as well as other social benefits, and Latin Americans in Washington State are one of the less educated populations in the state. Between 1990 and 2000, the percentage of Latin Americans living in Washington who had received less than a high-school diploma increased from 43 percent to 47 percent. As a result, in the year 2000, almost 50 percent of the Latin Americans in Washington did not have a high-school diploma, compared to 13 percent of the total population. In addition, only 11 percent of the Latin American population had a college degree.