News Column

Hispanic Population in Pennsylvania Grew More than 80 Percent

March 10, 2011

Len Barcousky


Pennsylvania's Hispanic population grew by more than 80 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to U.S. Census numbers released Wednesday. The 720,000 Pennsylvanians who checked off that category are 5.7 percent of the state's 12.7 million people.

But while Pittsburgh saw a more than 50 percent increase during that same time, the city's overall Hispanic population lags behind many areas in the eastern part of the state. The city's Hispanic population went from about 4,400 people in the year 2000 to 6,964 residents in 2010, a number that was not enough to overcome its overall population loss.

Hispanics represent 2.3 percent of the city's population.

During that same period, Allegheny County's Hispanic population grew by 71 percent, from 11,166 to 19,070. They are 1.6 percent of the population.

Hispanic is a broad term for a diverse group of people that includes those with roots in Mexico, Spain, parts of the Caribbean, and South and Central America.

While Pittsburgh, which remains the state's second-largest city, lost almost 9 percent of its population over the last 10 years, Philadelphia, still the biggest city, grew slightly, adding about 8,000 residents.

The new census numbers indicate that growth in Philadelphia was the result of a dramatic increase in the city's Hispanic population, from 128,928 in 2000 to 187,611 in 2010. That increase of 59,000 more than overcame the decline in the city's non-Hispanic residents. Philadelphia's black, white and Asian populations all declined during the decade.

Hispanics now make up 12.3 percent of Philadelphia's 1.5 million people.

Victor H. Diaz, a leader in the Pittsburgh region's Hispanic community, said he was pleased that population numbers rose for both the city and the county, but he said he had been hoping they would be even higher.

City and county development officials have to do a better job spreading the word among Hispanics about the employment and investment opportunities available in Southwestern Pennsylvania, he said. "That's one of the things I am personally working on -- to make people more aware of the opportunities here," he said.

Pittsburgh's economy suffered less than boom areas with large Hispanic populations like Miami during the national recession, he said. The region still offers breaks both for people seeking service jobs and for people seeking to invest in office buildings, hotels and small business, he said.

"I think [the Pittsburgh area] is the last frontier for Hispanics," said Mr. Diaz, president of VideoTek Construction in Aspinwall. "The trick is to show some of these business investors what we have to offer."

Jacqueline Martinez, a Downtown immigration attorney with her own firm, JBM Legal, said the region hasn't embraced immigrants the way other communities have. In her opinion, longtime residents were so devastated by the decline of the steel industry that they have not welcomed others as the region recovered.

"People have to understand we're not going to grow if we don't let other people come in here," she said.

Lawyer Lourdes Sanchez Ridge said that when she first came to the Pittsburgh area more than 20 years ago, she almost never heard Spanish spoken on Pittsburgh's streets. That has changed as thousands of middle-managers and other business people have joined the lawyers, doctors and professors living in the region, she said.

Ms. Sanchez Ridge is the chairwoman of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Pittsburgh's new Hispanic residents are coming for the most part from places like Miami and New York, she said. While the city's Beechview neighborhood often is identified as home to Spanish-speakers, Hispanics can be found throughout the region, she said.

Behind Pittsburgh, Penn Hills and Mt. Lebanon are next with about 600 residents each.

Cranberry's Hispanic population of 446 people has increased by almost 179 percent from 166 in 2000 but still totals only 1.6 percent of the community's population.

Other community's with sizable Hispanic populations include Moon, McKeesport, Monroeville, Hempfield, Ross and the City of Butler.

Source: Copyright (c) 2011, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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