The Hispanic population in the United States grew by 43% in the last decade, surpassing 50 million and accounting for about 1 out of 6 Americans, the Census Bureau reported Thursday.
Analysts seized on data showing that the growth was propelled by a surge in births in the U.S., rather than immigration, pointing to a growing generational shift in which Hispanics continue to gain political clout and, by 2050, could make up a third of the U.S. population.
"In the adult population, many immigrants helped the increase, but the child population is increasingly more Hispanic," said D'Vera Cohn, a senior writer at the Pew Research Center.
In 2010, Hispanics made up 23% of people under the age 18, compared with 17% in 2000. In California, 51% of children are Hispanic, up from 44% in 2000.
Overall, Hispanics accounted for more than half of the 27.3 million U.S. population increase since 2000.
About 75% of Hispanics live in the nine states that have long-standing Hispanic populations — Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York and Texas.
That figure is down from 81% in 2000, indicating the population has begun dispersing to other parts of the country, particularly in the Southeast, Cohn said.
New Mexico has the largest percentage of Hispanic residents (46.3%), followed by Texas and California (37.6%).
The Hispanic population more than doubled in Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, South Carolina and North Carolina.
"This is a sign that the Hispanic population is spreading out more widely than in the past," Cohn said. "You now see Hispanic communities in many places that hadn't had them a decade or two ago."
The population growth among Hispanics also kept the population steady in states that would have shown a decline or no growth, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Louisiana.
The non-Hispanic population grew at a slower pace in the last decade, at about 5%. Within that population, those who reported their race as only white grew by 1%.
While the population of those who reported only as white grew in number in that time, from 196.6 million to 196.8 million, its proportion of the total U.S. population declined to 64% from 69%.
As in the 2000 census, individuals were asked to identify their ethnic or racial background. As guidance, the Census Bureau said the term Hispanic refers to people who trace the origin of their parents or ancestors to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Spanish-speaking Central and South America countries and other Spanish cultures.
A 2008 Census Bureau projection estimated that ethnic and racial minorities will become the majority in the United States by 2050 and that about 1 in 3 U.S. residents will be Hispanic by then.
"Our country is becoming racially and ethnically more diverse over time, as is clear in the growth rates of minority populations," said Robert Groves, director of the Census Bureau.
Michael A. Memoli in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.