Until recently Indiana had been a state with a solid white majority of over 90 percent. However, a steady shift in the demographic composition of the state has been taking shape since the last decades of the twentieth century. Between low fertility rates and out-migration, the percentages of Euro-Americans (also known as non-Latino whites or Anglos) have been descending, whereas those of Latinos and other groups have been rising. Since 1990 the total state population increased by 14 percent, whereas the Latino population rose by about 200 percent. The number of Latinos in Indiana has mushroomed since 1990, and it stood at 285,000 by 2005.1 Not only are they numerous, but they are also young: half of all Latinos are under 24 years of age, in contrast to the rest of the state’s population, whose median age is 35.2 The young age of the Latino population calls for attention to key areas of investment, such as education, with a view to the potential contributions of Latinos in the coming years. Latino enrollment in public schools shot up by 119 percent between 1993 and 2002. In less than 10 years the number of Latino children in school increased by 23,143.3
Latinos are spreading throughout Indiana’s geography, revitalizing with their presence the economies and declining demographics of many counties. Latinos are contributing more than just labor; they make up also a growing share of the consumers. A telling indicator is Latinos’ significance to the real estate market. In 1990 only 12 percent of Indiana’s Latinos owned homes; in 2000, that figure had climbed to 30 percent.4 In 2002 Latinos owned 5,482 businesses, principally in construction and retail.5 For most of their history Latinos remained concentrated within a cluster of towns in Lake County, northwestern Indiana, and a few miles from Chicago; but at least since the 1970s they have been fanning out in all directions, especially to the east and center of the state. By the 1990s, 82 percent of Latinos were found in Lake, Marion, Allen, St. Joseph, Porter, and Elkhart counties, which contain cities such as Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and South Bend.6 Comparatively fewer Latinos live in rural areas, which are mostly to the south. Latinos have been attracted by opportunities in meatpacking plants and agriculture. In towns such as Logansport, the hog and chicken industries depend on their labor. Aware of this relationship, some companies such as Logansport-based Iowa Beef Processing Company instituted programs (for example, ESL classes) to ease the adaptation of Latinos to the area, provided free transportation, and even promoted home ownership for Latinos.
Latinos have come a long way, especially since World War II. In 1970 Latinos still represented less than 1 percent of the state’s population. By 1980 they had increased their share to 1.5 percent of the total. In 1990 their participation inched slightly upwards to 1.8 percent, in a context of stagnant growth in Indiana’s population (Indiana’s total population went merely from 5,490,224 in 1980 to 5,544,159 in 1990). A significant break with that pattern occurred in the last 15 years, with Latinos constituting 4.5 percent of the state’s 6.3 million people in
2005, figures which don’t include the unknown but also growing number of unauthorized Latino migrants.7 Among Latinos, Mexicans’ share increased from two-thirds (67.6 percent) to almost three-quarters (71.3 percent) between 1990 and 2000. By contrast, the percentage of Puerto Ricans slipped down from 14.2 to 9.2 percent, as did that of Cubans (from 1.9 to 1.3 percent). The catchall category âœOther Latino or Latinoâ increased during the same period from 16.4 to 18.2 percent. The growth in the latter category reflects the expanded numbers of migrants and the diversity of their origins in all the Americas especially Central and, to a lesser extent, South America.8