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The Top 10 Things You Should Know About Virginia’s Demographic Changes and Immigration Politics

A Look at the State’s Emerging Communities of Color in Light of the Republican Primary

SOURCE: AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Eva Russo

Voters line up before 6:00 a.m. outside the City Hall East voting precinct in Richmond, Virginia, Tuesday, November 4, 2008.

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Virginia is experiencing significant population changes, particularly among its communities of color. The commonwealth’s demographic shift is representative of what many say will be our nation’s future by 2042, as people of color are becoming the majority in Virginia. Already groups like Latinos and Asians play a significant role in the state’s well-being and everyday life.

In advance of Tuesday’s Republican primary in Virginia, here are some facts on how these emerging communities are affecting Virginia’s economy and political electorate.

1. Virginia is at a demographic tipping point. Since 2000 residents of color account for three of every four new Virginia residents—76.1 percent of the state’s population growth has come from residents of color. One in every 10 Virginia residents is foreign born, with the majority from either Asia (40 percent) or Latin America (36 percent). The Latino population in particular has increased 92 percent over the past decade, to 7.9 percent of the population in 2010.

2. The child population is becoming more diverse. In the past three years, 12 percent of babies born in Virginia were Hispanic, while 19 percent were African American and 6 percent were Asian American. In 2008, 40 percent of all children in the state were children of color. The racial breakdown of children in Virginia suggests an even more diverse future.

3. Virginia has a significant racial generational gap. The ratio of children to seniors in the state is nearly 2-to-1, with children making up 23.5 percent of the population, and seniors constituting only 12.1 percent. The rapid growth of Hispanic and Asian American youth is the driving force behind the growing racial generational gap in the state, where children make up a greater percentage of the population and are becoming more diverse.

4. In such a competitive swing state, every vote counts, and people of color in Virginia have overwhelmingly favored Democratic candidates. In the 2008 presidential election, then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) won the state—which had been solidly Republican in the previous elections—by approximately 230,000 votes. Sen. Obama received 92 percent of the African American vote and 65 percent of the Hispanic vote. The African American vote made up two-thirds of Virginia’s minority vote in 2008. And approximately 3.6 percent of eligible voters in Virginia today are Latino—the 12th-largest Latino eligible-voter population nationally.

5. New strict voter ID laws will adversely affect communities of color and the elderly. Last week the Virginia Senate approved a bill requiring voters to show valid identification in order to cast a ballot. Such measures suppress the votes of these communities—about one in five people of color and citizens over age 64 do not have government-issued ID.

6. The state is debating whether to implement an Arizona- and Alabama-styled immigration law. In 2011 the state failed to pass such legislation, but in 2012 control of the state legislature switched to the Republican Party, which has shown a renewed interest this year in such legislation.

7. Virginia is not new to the debates over anti-immigrant legislation. In 2007 Prince William County implemented a measure that instructed police officers to obtain the legal status of any person arrested. This has caused a deepening distrust between the Latino community and the police. In this environment crimes will remain unreported by residents because they are not willing to risk involving police and having to divulge their immigration status.

8. Individuals in communities of color face significant economic hurdles. Income inequality grew over the past two decades in Virginia with racial disparities in education playing a significant role. High school dropout rates in the state are significantly higher among youth of color. In 2009 black students had a 9.3 percent dropout rate and Hispanic students had a 17.6 percent dropout rate. Both are much higher than the 5.2 percent dropout rate for non-Hispanic white students.

9. People of color are contributing to the state’s relatively low unemployment rate of 6.2 percent. In Virginia small businesses owned by African Americans increased by 54 percent, Hispanic ownership increased by 51 percent, and Asian American ownership increased by 47 percent between 2002 and 2007.

10. Even undocumented immigrants contribute significantly to the state’s economy. In 2010 unauthorized immigrants paid $165.3 million in state and local taxes.

Vanessa Cardenas is Director of Progress 2050 and Angela Maria Kelley is Vice President for Immigration Policy and Advocacy at the Center for American Progress.

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