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Hispanic Youth Boom Puts Futbol Under Texas Friday Night Lights

David Mildenberg
26/07/2011

Bloomberg

Homecoming at Houston’s Lee High School is a social highlight of the year -- much like everywhere else in football-crazed Texas. Except here, the sport is soccer, both boys’ and girls’ teams play, and it’s held in February instead of the fall.

The school, which had few Hispanic students when it opened in 1962 as Robert E. Lee High School, halted football in 2000 because of waning interest, said Steve Amstutz, Lee’s principal for 10 years before leaving last year. Lee restarted a team in 2010, though soccer -- futbol in Spanish -- is the dominant sport among a student body of 2,000 that’s now about 75 percent Hispanic, he said.

“Lee is truly a reflection of U.S. immigration policy,”said Amstutz, who now leads a nonprofit that sends low-income students to elite summer camps and programs.

While open immigration stances have drawn fire in Texas and other states, the transformation of the school reflects a national shift that’s likely to redefine the way Americans view Hispanics, whose importance as workers and consumers will grow as the society ages, said Jose Legaspi, whose Legaspi Co. in Montebello, California, owns nine shopping centers.

“The business community has realized for a long time that Hispanics are a young demographic force that is a positive for the U.S.,” said Legaspi, who has developed Hispanic-oriented properties for 32 years. “That’s the reality. We deal with it, and we move on.”

Disappearing White Children

The nationwide population of Hispanics under age 18 grew by 4.79 million between 2000 and 2010, while non-Hispanic white children declined by 4.3 million, according to figures from the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau that are being released this year.

In Harris County alone, which includes Houston, the number of Hispanics under 18 rose by 185,330 -- about 10 percent of the entire gain among all Americans in that age category. The county’s white child population fell by 60,170.

The gap between business and political interests over this new demographic order was evident in Texas last month when supermarket chain owner Charles Butt of San Antonio and Houston homebuilder Bob Perry convinced legislators to block a bill backed by Governor Rick Perry that would have given the police broader power to enforce immigration laws.

‘Economic Hard Times’

Anger over immigration issues will dissipate as the U.S. economy recovers and its population becomes more diverse, said San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.

“This spike in sentiment against immigrants is related to our economic hard times,” Castro said in a telephone interview.“We need to welcome people to America who are willing to work hard and build up the country.”

Texas’s economy, with an 8.2 percent unemployment rate that’s below the national average of 9.2 percent, benefits from the migration of Hispanics, said Sam Dawson, chairman of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and chief executive officer of a civil engineering company.

“While the business community is very supportive of stronger border security and making sure people have proper documentation, this state can’t afford to send its workforce back to Mexico,” Dawson said.

U.S. authorities deported almost 393,000 people in the year ended Sept. 30, according to Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Half the deportations involved people considered criminals, up from 30 percent in 2008, Christensen said.

Broad Implications

The surge of young Hispanics in the U.S. brings widespread implications for society, from schools and shopping malls to churches and maternity wards. Melrose Stores, a 100-store apparel chain, is adding a dozen sites over the next year exclusively targeted at Hispanics, said Koyt Everhart Jr., director of real estate of the San Antonio-based company.

Melrose doubled its average store size in recent years to 10,000 square feet to provide more room for young children joining their parents. “Shopping is a family experience” for them, Everhart said. “Hispanic families are just very tight-knit.”

Among Legaspi’s success stories is Fort Worth’s Hispanic-themed La Gran Plaza mall, now 95 percent occupied, up from 10 percent when he bought the property in 2004, he said.

“People didn’t think of Fort Worth as having enough Hispanics, but we got support from all sides,” he said.

Hispanic children make up 49 percent of Texas’s 4.85 million public school students, and the state will have a majority Hispanic population by 2035, up from 38 percent in 2010, said Steve Murdock, a sociology professor at Rice University in Houston and a former census director.

90% of Babies

In Houston, 90 percent of the almost 70,000 babies born since 2005 at the city’s two public hospitals were Hispanic, according to Harris County Hospital District statistics.

In Austin, about 100 Hispanic children ages 4 to 9 regularly walk to the altar for children’s liturgy at St. Ignatius Martyr Catholic Church’s 1 p.m. Spanish language mass, said Reverend Bill Wack, the pastor. Its English masses earlier on Sundays typically attract 10 or 20 kids, he said.

“We have a lot of crying babies during the 1 p.m. service, which frustrates some, but I tell folks that’s our future,”said Wack, who came to St. Ignatius two years ago. The church serves about 3,000 families, with about 80 percent of its congregants having Spanish surnames, he said.

More children means added pressure on health care and schools, a challenge Texas isn’t meeting because its political leaders won’t raise taxes to boost public spending, said Eileen Garcia, chief executive officer of Texans Care for Children, a nonprofit lobbying group.

Child Poverty

Texas ranked 34th among states in child well-being, according to a July 2010 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that considered teen birthrates, health-insurance coverage and other categories. Its child-poverty rate ranks among the highest in the U.S., even though median household income is 3.6 percent to 29 percent above other high-poverty states, Garcia said.

Texas’s legislature reduced grade-school funding during the next two years by $4 billion from previously mandated levels while cutting overall spending by $15 billion to balance the state budget. With about 80,000 new students annually, Texas’schools will receive about $300 less per child, the Equity Center, an Austin-based advocacy group that represents more than 600 school districts, estimated in June.

About 3 million children participate in Texas’ Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program, 46 percent more than five years earlier, the health department said on its website.

Gaining Power

“The groups that are growing in Texas are also the ones with lower education-achievement levels,” said Castro, San Antonio’s mayor. “We need many more minority students to graduate from high school and college.”

Hispanics are likely to gain greater political power in the future to address some of these issues, although some Democrats and Hispanic-affiliated interest groups say the Republican establishment is resisting that.

Adding 4.3 million new residents between 2000 and 2010 gave Texas 36 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, up from 32, the largest gain of any state, starting with the 2012 congressional election cycle. The population grew by 20.6 percent to 25.1 million last year from 2000, more than twice the 9.7 percent national rate of increase. Hispanics comprised about 58 percent of the growth, said Murdock of Rice University.

Republicans, who have dominated the statehouse since 2002, approved new congressional districts that political consultants said will probably result in one additional minority member. The proposed map, under review by the U.S. Justice Department, prompted lawsuits by groups including the League of United Latin American Citizens for not reflecting Hispanic growth.

The nation’s ability to resolve the economic and political issues facing Hispanics will shape its future, Murdock said.

“Whether we like it or not, how well the minority population does is how well Texas and the country will do,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Mildenberg in Austin, Texas, at dmildenberg@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net.

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