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Column: Growing population diversity means greater opportunities

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Sometimes what everyone knows is not actually known by everyone. Often those who know something don’t pay any attention to what they know. At times that avoidance of the known can be costly.

Everyone knows that the Hispanic population of Indiana and the United States has been increasing. While the total population of Indiana advanced by 7.3 percent between 2000 and 2012, our Hispanic/Latino neighbors increased by 90 percent. Of the 446,000 additional Hoosiers, 196,000 or 44 percent were Hispanic/Latino.

Whereas in 2000, this ethnic group represented 3.6 percent of the Indiana population, today they account for 6.3 percent.

We have seen some governments, institutions and businesses make adjustments to the growth of the Hispanic/Latino population as if they were a homogeneous entity. In smaller towns that might be true, but in our larger cities our new residents come from many lands other than Mexico — including Central and South America plus the Caribbean.

Therefore we find signs, forms and booklets in English and Spanish to accommodate populations that today require them. Will that need persist?

To ask the question is not to deny the utility of what has been done. Rather, the question becomes: Will the next generation of immigrants to the U.S. from Spanish-speaking areas be better prepared to function in this country using English than their predecessors?

To date we have drawn often from the poorest, least educated, least skilled portions of the sending nations. A new immigration policy could lead to a new set of Hispanic/Latino applicants for admission to the U.S. who have basic English skills.

In Indiana we have not seen a similar response to the near 90 percent increase in the Asian and Pacific Islander population. Why? There are three reasons: First, although increasing almost as fast as the Hispanic/Latino population, this group is still small in numbers (116,000), just 1.8 percent of the state’s total population.

Second, the Asian and Pacific Islander population is made up of many more language groups than the Spanish-speaking population. It would be far more costly to accommodate numerous languages. Third, many of the Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants are already well versed in basic English when they arrive.

Growing more slowly (19 percent) is the black-only population in our state. Even though this largely native group is still the second-most-numerous race (616,000), they represent less than 10 percent of the total. But that might be misleading. The fastest growing minority (106 percent) are those who identify themselves as being of two or more races. In earlier times, multiracial people might have been classified as black.

This increased racial and cultural diversity of our state’s population could easily help reduce Indiana’s image as a white-only state where others are unwelcome. In the next generation, we may find that breaking the old mold will enhance our desirability as a good place for everyone to live and prosper.

Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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