The Latino population of the United States will more than double by the year 2020 and rise from the present 7% of the national population to 19% by 2080, according to projections to be officially released next month by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, a census official said here Thursday.
The official, William Matney, said the bureau's first long-range projections of what it terms "Spanish origin/Hispanic" population will show a growth from the present 17.3 million Latinos to 36.5 million in 2020 and more than 51 million in 2046.
At the same time, he said, the Latino population will be projected to rise to 12% nationally in 2020, 16% in 2050 and finally to the 19% in 2080. It was 6.4% at the time of the last census in 1980.
"The white non-Hispanic population in the United States may peak by 2020 and then decrease," he added.
Matney, a Washington-based spokesman for the census, was in Los Angeles to give reporters a briefing on census matters. He described the forthcoming report as a major project.
The forecasts by the Census Bureau follow nearer-range projections released earlier this year by California authorities projecting a rise in the state's Latino population from the present 5.7 million to 11.9 million in 2020. The present 21.6% Latino share of California's population is expected to rise by then to 32.3%.
The Southern California Assn. of Governments estimated earlier this month that in a six-county Southern California area--Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Imperial and Ventura--the Latino population will rise to 39.5% of the projected total population of 18.3 million by 2010.
Matney said the Census Bureau report also will project a distinct aging of the national Latino population.
While the median Latino age was 24.1 years in 1982, the bureau believes it will be 40.9 years in 2080, he said. "Hispanics 65 years of age and over may quadruple by 2015 and reach seven times its present size by 2030," he added.
"This will have a potential enormous impact on required social services," the official said.
Matney said the projections made by the census represent a "conservative" middle-range scenario of what the bureau's experts believe is likely to happen in three areas--fertility, immigration and death rate. He said high and low scenarios also have been developed, but he could not be certain these would be released in the report.
He referred further questions on the forthcoming report to Gregory Spencer of the bureau's population projections methodology section. However, Spencer declined comment.
In Sacramento, Mary Heim, research manager for the population research unit in the state Department of Finance, said any projections of population trends so far into the future should be viewed with caution.
"Projections are only as good as the assumptions upon which they are based," she remarked. "All sorts of things can make them wrong."
For instance, Heim said, when her agency makes projections for California it always assumes that the present immigration laws will continue in force into the future. Actually, she said, this is unlikely, and future changes in the law or in practices of policing immigration could cause very broad changes in immigration patterns.
The Census Bureau also has allowed residents to choose which ethnic group they wish to be identified with. Heim observed that should this policy change to let the census-taker exercise some judgment as to which group to designate, the figures could be altered sharply.
"Projecting 94 years forward just boggles my mind," she observed of the forthcoming census report, noting that the state is currently projecting just 34 years ahead and views even that as somewhat uncertain.
Also expressing a cautionary view was Tim Douglas, coordinator of small area forecast services for the Southern California Assn. of Governments (SCAG), who spoke after Matney at Thursday's briefing.
SCAG projects population trends only to 2010, Douglas said, and it considers even this to be "very general and long range."
"The closer it is, the better the projection is," he observed.
On the other hand, Matney said, "Census Bureau projections over the years have been extremely accurate."
Early in the briefing, the census official said the margin of error in the projection would be less than 1%. However, he later backed away from that claim after questions focusing on past surprises in immigration patterns from various countries.
Matney said the projections provided will be national only and will not be broken down by state.