Author: Michael Cline, North Carolina State Demographer
In 1989 a young couple moved to Greenville from Puerto Rico. Like many other young families who relocated to North Carolina, they were pursuing opportunity. The husband was embarking on his career (engineering), as his wife stayed home with their young daughter. Their daughter was soon joined by two younger brothers as the family built a life in North Carolina. However, unlike many families in their community at that time, the Hernandez Cruz family counted themselves among the fewer than 1,000 residents of Pitt County of Hispanic origin.
“There wasn’t much of a Hispanic population in Greenville in the 1990s,” explained Ismael, now known as Izzi, their older son. “There wasn’t a lot of cultural awareness. My name was unusual among my neighbors, so I ended up adopting a more familiar name as a nickname.”
By 2000, the Hispanic population in North Carolina was almost five times larger than it was in 1990. Since the 1990s, the Hispanic population has been the fastest growing population demographic in the state. By 2010, there were 825,000 Hispanic North Carolinians, or 8% of the overall population. Between 2010 and 2020, the Hispanic population grew by 40% to 1.1 million people (or 11% of the total population). If these trends continue, we expect that there will be 2.0 million Hispanic North Carolinians by 2050, accounting for 14% of North Carolina’s total population.
Today, the county where Izzi was born is home to more than 13,000 people who report Hispanic heritage.
“I was in Greenville not long ago and ate in a great Dominican restaurant,” says Izzi, who is now a budget analyst with the Office of State Budget and Management. “That wouldn’t have been an option back when I was growing up.”
Ethnic Diversity of the Hispanic Population
The Hispanic population includes people from a variety of different ethnic backgrounds. Today, as in 1990, most Hispanics claim Mexican heritage, though the relative size of that group has changed. In 1990, the Mexican-origin population accounted for 38% of the Hispanic population living in North Carolina. By 2021, 50% of the Hispanic population considered themselves Mexican or Mexican American.
In 1990 the second largest Hispanic population at 22% was—like Izzi—of Puerto Rican descent. In 2021, Puerto Ricans remained the second largest ethnic group but were only 12% of the total Hispanic population. Meanwhile, by 2021, the portion of North Carolina’s Hispanic population that claimed Central American heritage (primarily Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadoran) had climbed to 18%, up from 6% in 1990.
One of Every Three Hispanic North Carolinians Were Born In North Carolina
One of the most common misperceptions of the growing Hispanic population is that it is made up of recent immigrants. The reality is that only about 38% of Hispanic people in North Carolina are foreign-born, non-native. Most Hispanic North Carolinians are descendants of immigrants, and many, like Izzi, were born and raised in North Carolina. In fact, of those living in North Carolina in 2021, one of every three (34%) was born in North Carolina and another 27% were born in another state or were born abroad of American citizens. Of the 38% foreign-born Hispanic population, some are now naturalized.
In 2021, 68% of all Hispanic North Carolinians were citizens (including Puerto Ricans who are US citizens regardless of where they were born).
How to Access Population Estimates and Projections by Hispanic Origin
You can access a summary showing the size and age characteristics of the Hispanic population for past or future years (2010 through 2050) for North Carolina or one or more North Carolina Counties. You can also go directly to Demography.osbm.nc.gov to access estimates and projections of the total Hispanic population by race and sex for the state and counties. Search for the “Population Projections by Hispanic Origin and Race” dataset. Data users can explore these data by selecting specific counties or other characteristics. Selected data or the full dataset can be downloaded from the data platform as well. These data can also be downloaded directly as a comma delimited text file at: County/State Population Projections. Go to the last dataset titled: Hispanic Origin by Race (2010-2050).