By GRANT SCHULTE
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska’s Hispanic population saw its smallest growth last year since an immigration wave to the state began more than two decades ago, while Asian-Americans became the state’s fastest-growing demographic.
The number of Hispanics grew by 2.5 percent over the previous year, the smallest percentage recorded since July 1991, according to U.S. census data released Thursday. The state’s overall population growth was fairly stagnant, increasing by only 0.7 percent to 1,881,503 last year.
The Asian-American population increased by 4.9 percent, although their overall numbers remained much smaller than the Hispanic population. Nearly 41,000 Asian-Americans lived in Nebraska last year, compared to 191,325 people who identified as Hispanic.
Hispanics accounted for more than 10 percent of the state’s total population as of July 2014, the most recent numbers available.
The growth rate follows a trend from recent years: The number of Asian-Americans has grown by 23.5 percent since 2010, while the Hispanic population jumped 14.3 percent.
The number of Hispanic births has rebounded since the recession, so the slower growth may be the result of the recovering national economy, said David Drozd, research coordinator for the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research.
Drozd said the stronger national economy could be luring Hispanics back to recession-battered states such as California, Arizona, Florida and Nevada.
“With unemployment lowering there, perhaps jobs can be found and people are moving back to be closer to family (or) in a warmer climate,” Drozd said.
Another key factor is the recent decrease in fertility rates among Hispanic women, said Lissette Aliaga-Linares, a research associate for the university’s Office of Latino and Latin American Studies. The nation has seen a similar trend as more women join the workforce and pursue educations, she said.
Hispanic births in the U.S. declined to 73 per 1,000 women in 2013, and the number has fallen each year since 2007, according to a January report by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Aliaga-Linares said Nebraska will likely continue to see net gains in its Hispanic population each year because a large share of the population is younger, making them more likely to have children and less likely to die. Many families also see Nebraska as a safe and affordable place to live, and some come because of connections to relatives and friends who already live here, she said.
“They find in Nebraska a better place to raise their children,” she said.
The university’s Center for Public Affairs Research predicted in a 2013 report that the Hispanic population would triple by 2050, accounting for nearly a quarter of the state’s total population.
Drozd said nationwide immigration from Asian countries has increased and many of the new arrivals are young, contributing to a higher birth rate and a lower death rate.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported last month that China has replaced Mexico as the country that sends the most immigrants to the United States. About 150,000 Chinese immigrants arrived in 2013, compared to 50,000 in 2005, according to census data. Drozd said some are coming to Nebraska for school or work.