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The Population Picture

More than in any other media type we study, the growth and health of the ethnic media are determined by a dynamic and constantly changing population. Understanding what is happening with the nation’s recent immigrants and native-language speakers is not easy. Trends that indicate one thing — say a growing number of Spanish-speakers — have sub-trends such as the language habits of those people’s children. Thus even when short-term trends appear clear, their longer-term impact can be more difficult to grasp.

So what are the population trends heading into 2007?

The biggest is that America’s new immigrant populations are spreading out. The phenomenon was noted, and widely publicized, in August 2006, with the release of the U.S. Census Community Survey. While the traditional immigrant states, California, New York, Texas and Florida, still have the largest immigrant populations by far, others are seeing big increases. New Hampshire, Colorado, Missouri, Delaware and South Dakota and Indiana, not normally considered immigrant havens, all have seen increases of more than 25% in their immigrant populations since 2000.1

According to the survey, 34 out of 50 states, and the District of Columbia, had more than 8% of their population speaking languages other than English at home in 2005, up from 28 just three years earlier. 2 3

Percent of People Five Years and Over Who Speak a Language Other Than English at Home: 2005 versus 2002

2005 2002
United States 19.4 18.3
Alabama 4.2 3.7
Alaska 13.6 12.7
Arizona 27.4 25.8
Arkansas 5.9 4.2
California 42.3 40.6
Colorado 17 15.6
Connecticut 19 18
Delaware 11.5 9.7
District of Columbia 15.7 16.7
Florida 25.4 24.1
Georgia 11.6 9.9
Hawaii 24 26.3
Idaho 9.7 9.6
Illinois 21.5 19.9
Indiana 7.3 8.4
Iowa 6.2 5.8
Kansas 9.4 7.6
Kentucky 3.9 3.8
Louisiana 8.4 7.6
Maine 7.6 7.2
Maryland 14.5 13.2
Massachusetts 20.3 18.7
Michigan 8.9 8.2
Minnesota 9.4 10
Mississippi 3.1 2.9
Missouri 5.3 5.6
Montana 4.2 4.1
Nebraska 9 7.7
Nevada 26.2 23.5
New Hampshire 8.7 7.4
New Jersey 27.4 26.4
New Mexico 36.1 34.4
New York 28.2 27.4
North Carolina 9.2 8.2
North Dakota 5.7 5.6
Ohio 6.1 6
Oklahoma 8.1 7.4
Oregon 13.9 12
Pennsylvania 9.1 8.2
Rhode Island 20.3 19
South Carolina 5.9 5.4
South Dakota 6 5.6
Tennessee 5.6 4.7
Texas 33.6 31.5
Utah 13.9 12.3
Vermont 5.1 4.9
Virginia 12.7 11.5
Washington 16 14.3
West Virginia 2.2 2.3
Wisconsin 8 7.7
Wyoming 5.9 5.9

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2005 and 2002 American Community Surveys

What language is spoken in those homes? For a majority it’s Spanish. As of 2005, 12% of Americans over the age of 5 were speaking Spanish at home, up from 11.1% in 2002. And the number of states where at least 8% of the population spoke Spanish at home rose to 15% in 2005, up from 12% in 2002.4

For the ethnic media this spread between immigrants and native-language speakers is likely to mean two things in particular. First, as these populations spread, it seems probable that small media outlets will arise to serve them. Latinos in particular still tend to congregate, according to demographers, into Spanish-speaking communities. As the number of communities and their size grows, they will probably develop more media. Second, nationally, ethnic broadcast and cable outlets, such as the ones that exist for Spanish-language media users, are also well suited to reach these more dispersed communities.

While those factors suit growth for the ethnic media, there is another current that pulls in the other direction — again especially for Hispanics. Currently 40% of the nation’s Latino population is foreign-born, the group most likely to speak Spanish. But that number is declining.5

There are a number of reasons why for the first time in decades growth in the nation’s Latino population came more from birth than from immigration in 2006. Two major reasons are a slowdown in immigration numbers, which has come with the tightening of U.S. borders, and the relative youth of the Latinos already in the U.S. But the net result, more U.S.-born Latinos, has potential ramifications for the Spanish-speaking population and the ethnic media.

U.S.-born Latinos tend to be English-dominant: They watch Spanish-language TV with their parents and English-language TV with their friends, says Jeffrey Passel, a demographer with the Pew Hispanic Center. Those differences show through in even basic polling questions. In a recent Pew Hispanic Center poll, 81% of U.S.-born Latinos wanted to be interviewed in English; 91% of foreign-born Latinos wanted to be interviewed in Spanish.6

Language in Which Latinos Want to be Interviewed
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Pew Hispanic Center

At the end of 2006, the average age for this next generation of Latinos was 15, meaning that in the next five or so years they will be entering their own careers and adult lives apart from their parents. When they go off on their own, will they switch over to largely English-language media, stay mostly with Spanish-language outlets or adopt more of a hybrid, with a bit of each? The decisions this group makes will be critical to the fortunes and growth of the ethnic media.

The language trends are something to watch over the next several years. But 2007 will probably be another good year for the ethnic media in terms of audience growth. According to 2005 data, the latest available, Hispanic publications (the vast majority of which are Spanish-language) rebounded from a rough 2004 with a dramatic reverse in both the number of publications and their readership. And ethnic outlets are spreading as ethnic groups reach into more and more areas. This geographic spread, noted in our section on population, can be tracked, at least where the Hispanic media are concerned.

The Latino Print Network, which tracks the growth of Hispanic media, has seen a marked growth in the number of Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) that are served by Hispanic publications in the last 10 years. (An MSA is defined by the Census Bureau as a large population nucleus, together with adjacent communities that have a high degree of social and economic integration.) In 1995 approximately 80 MSAs were served by Hispanic publications, but by late 2006 there were 130.7

Metro Statistical Areas Served by Hispanic Publications
1995 vs. 2006
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Kirk Whistler

Furthermore, says Kirk Whisler, who collects those numbers for the Latino Print Network, the new publications in those places were weeklies 55% to 60% of the time in 2006. Back in 1995 they were almost entirely “less than weeklies.” The rise of weeklies, as opposed to those that published less often, shows that publishers not only believe Hispanic publications can thrive, but that the populations they serve are big enough, or media-interested enough, to warrant a more regular publishing schedule.8

Ethnic Media Audience

Actual audience numbers for the ethnic media are notoriously difficult to track. Outlets are often highly local, serving not cities as much as neighborhoods, with small circulations that are often not audited.

For Spanish-language media, at least, the figures seem to be getting a little more reliable. The number of audited Hispanic publications rose in 2005 across all categories — daily, weekly and less-than-weekly — while the number of Hispanic publications rose as well.9

The latest year for which there are data, 2005, was a good one for Hispanic publications. The combined circulation of all Hispanic newspapers (90% of which are Spanish-language) rose to 17.6 million in 2005 from 16.7 million in 2004, according to the Latino Print Network, which represents and sells ads for more than 350 Hispanic print outlets.10 (It should be noted that most of those figures are unaudited.) That was a reversal from 2004, which, as we noted in last year’s report, saw the first drop since we’d been tracking ethnic media audience. The number, incidentally, is also an all-time high in the records of the Latino Print Network, which go back decades.

And circulation was up with all categories of Hispanic newspapers. Dailies saw a slight increase of 5,000 in circulation overall in 2005. Weeklies’ circulation jumped more than 450,000. Less-than-weeklies climbed by nearly 400,000.11

Hispanic U.S. Daily Newspaper Circulation
Select years 1970-2005
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Kirk Whisler & Latino Print Network, Carlsbad, CA

The 2005 circulation for the dailies, 1.614 million, is still below the 2003 record of 1.808 million, but that comparison may be deceptive. That 2003 figure is based on the circulation of 40 dailies, but only 14 of those circulations which were audited. The 2005 numbers come from 42 dailies, and half of them, 21, were audited. In other words, there may have been more overstatement in the 2003 figures since the majority of them were self-reported. It’s also worth noting that the 2005 circulation data, while more reliable, still rely heavily on publications that do not audit their numbers.12

More weekly and less-than-weekly publications, as we noted earlier, are also auditing their circulations. In 2005, a total of 104 of 350 Hispanic weekly papers had audited their circulations. That compares to 2003, when 76 of 304 were audited. And 17 of 343 less-than-weeklies audited their circulation numbers in 2005. That’s obviously a small percentage, but still better than 2003, when only 8 of 322 less-than-weeklies were audited.13 The changes show that the publications are looking to get concrete numbers they can use to publicize themselves, particularly with advertisers. And the number of audits is especially significant for the less-than-weeklies, which are often small community publications that aren’t focused on validating circulation for advertisers. It may be a sign that such publications are lining up more ads, or at least trying to.

Regardless, experts in the field note that even the high end of those audience estimates ultimately equals low penetration of their potential audience. There are, after all, some 41 million Hispanics in the U.S. 14

Audited and Unaudited Hispanic Newspapers
2003 vs. 2005
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Kirk Whisler & Latino Print Network, Carlsbad, CA

PEJ also monitors the audited circulation of three large Hispanic daily newspapers, from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, as a comparison and checks against the unaudited data the Hispanic publishers collect. With those papers — La Opinion, El Diario and El Nuevo Herald —the trend looked generally flat in 2006, with tiny increases for all three. La Opinion, in Los Angeles, saw its circulation increase from 123,885 in March 2005 to 124,057 in March 2006, an increase of 172 readers.15 El Nuevo Herald, sister paper of the Miami Herald, climbed to 86,898 from 86,659 (239 more readers)16 and New York’s El Diario climbed from 50,100 to 50,618, a gain of 518.17

Audited Circulations of Three Major Spanish-Language Dailies
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulation, annual audit reports and publishers statements

La Opinion’s circulation numbers have bounced up and down in the years we’ve tracked. While the 2006 numbers were down from the previous year, they were still higher than in 2001. And there was a circulation increase in 2004. For El Diario, the small uptick was the first bump for the paper after four years of steady declines. El Nuevo Herald’s figures have largely held steady in the five years we’ve watched them.

Data on media use among ethnic groups is limited. The usual surveys that focus specifically on the ethnic media were not conducted in 2006. But the biennial Media Consumption Survey done by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press offers insights that indicate Hispanics are not very different from the population at large in their media consumption habits.

According to the Pew survey, 55% of those who identified themselves as being of “Hispanic origin or descent” regularly use a newspaper as a source of news. That number was slightly lower than the survey’s overall number for newspaper use, 59%. Hispanics were also slightly less likely to turn regularly to TV news, according to the survey — 75% of Hispanic respondents compared to 77% over all.18

The survey also showed that Hispanics were slightly more likely to regularly watch network news than the respondents as a whole — 36% versus 33%. And Hispanics were a bit more likely to turn to the Internet for news than respondents over all — 18% versus 13%.19

The media habits of Hispanics in the U.S., then, largely mirror the habits of the population as a whole, with only minor variations. And where radio is concerned, Hispanics and the population at large are dead even, with 49% of each group saying they regularly tune in.20 That may be less striking, though, when we remember that the self-identified Hispanics in the survey are not necessarily Spanish-speaking. They are merely of Hispanic descent and could be very much acclimated to American ways of living.


1. Rick Lyman, “Census Shows Growth of Immigrants,” New York Times, August 15, 2006

2. U.S. Census Table Percent of People 5 Years and Over Who Speak a Language Other Than English at Home: 2005

3. To get a sense of how widespread and steady the growth was in just three years, consider three states: in Kansas the population of non-English speakers went from 7.6% to 9.4%, in Massachusetts from 18.7% to 20.3% and in Nebraska from 7.7% to 9%.

4. U.S. Census Percent of People 5 Years and Over Who Speak Spanish at Home: 2005

5. From Q&A with Jeffrey Passel of Pew Hispanic

6. Pew Hispanic Center, July 2006 Latino Immigration study, Topline p. 2

7. Interview with Kirk Whisler

8. Ibid

9. “The State of Hispanic Print 2005” data sheet from Kirk Whisler

10. Ibid

11. Ibid

12. “The State of Hispanic Print 2005″ and Hispanic Publications in 2003” data sheets from Kirk Whisler

13. Ibid

14. U.S. Census Bureau press release Hispanic Population Passes 40 Million, June 9, 2005

15. Audit Bureau of Circulations statements for La Opinion

16. Audit Bureau of Circulations statements for El Nuevo Herald

17. Audit Bureau of Circulations statements for El Diario

18. Biennial Media Consumption Survey 2006 Topline p. 1620

19. Ibid

20. Ibid