TWENTY YEARS AGO THE MOST exotic condiment you could find in your local grocery store was garlic. Today, one of the toughest decisions you'll make is choosing among 30 varieties of salsa â€” the Mexican condiment that has become a staple on American tables, outselling ketchup since the early 1990s. Even kimchi, couscous and samosas have edged into the mainstream.
These choices reflect not only our increasing emphasis on ethnic pride but also a clear change in the demographics of our nation. Over the past decade, census data shows that multiculturalism has moved from an emerging trend to a concrete reality. Today, nearly 70 million Americans identify themselves as something other than white alone â€” that's nearly a quarter of the population. While these numbers are not directly comparable to 1990 census figures due to methodological changes, it's clear that companies can no longer consider diversity a side issue: Minorities now control nearly $900 billion in annual spending â€” an increase of more than $420 billion since 1990, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.
For businesses that seek to tap this bulging consumer purse, the latest census data paints a portrait of a multicultural marketplace that's more diverse than ever. Businesses can no longer assume that all minorities are concentrated in a handful of metropolitan areas â€” or that one strategy for a particular ethnic group will be effective in reaching all members of the same group. The multicultural marketplace has reached critical mass, and it requires a new approach. â€œThe entire composition of America is shifting,â€? says demographer Lynn Wombold of CACI Marketing Systems, based in Chantilly, Va. â€œIt's important for marketers to recognize that the numbers and the stories behind the numbers are important.â€?
Here's a snapshot of each group, and how it has aged over the past decade:
Growing Fast and Upwardly Mobile
AS ONE OF THE NATION'S LARGEST minority groups, the African American population has grown even larger over the past decade. In 2000, more than 36 million people identified themselves as black alone or black in combination with another race. Although Census 1990 and Census 2000 numbers are not directly comparable, growth in the black population far outpaced growth in the population overall. The Census Bureau estimates that the black population grew between 16 percent and 22 percent throughout the 1990s, compared with a 13 percent growth in the total population.
At the same time, black consumers have moved up the economic ladder, as median household income hit historic highs â€” a fact that can be traced directly to a steady increase in educational attainment. African Americans had a median household income of $30,439 in 2000, up from $18,676 in 1990. By the end of the decade, more than 27 percent of black households had incomes of more than $50,000, and 51 percent of married African Americans had incomes at $50,000 or above.
With increased wealth, many blacks moved out of the inner city and into the suburbs, creating a larger upscale segment for marketers to target. Between 1990 and 2000, the share of blacks who live in the suburbs climbed from 34 percent to 39 percent, a total of nearly 14 million people, according to the bureau's 2000 Current Population Survey (CPS). While many blacks who live in the suburbs fall in the middle-class category, a substantial share are affluent, CPS data reveals: 10 percent of black suburbanites have household incomes of $100,000 or more.
The black population boomed in the suburbs against the backdrop of a migration trend of historical note: After a century of leaving the South in search of better jobs in the manufacturing metros of the Midwest and Northeast, African Americans started to return en masse to Dixie. Between 1990 and 2000, the black population in the South rose by 3.5 million, according to census data. A 54 percent majority of blacks now live in the South, census figures reveal.
BY FAR, THE BIGGEST STORY TO come out of Census 2000 is the remarkable growth in the Hispanic population. Over the past 20 years, fueled by immigration and high birth rates, the share of Hispanics in the United States has soared from under 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 13 percent in 2000. Now totaling 35 million people, Hispanics rival African Americans for the title of â€œlargest minority groupâ€? in the nation.
The umbrella term â€œHispanicâ€? encompasses people of many different backgrounds, according to Census 2000. Nearly 60 percent of Hispanic Americans are of Mexican descent. The next largest group, Puerto Ricans, make up just under 10 percent of Hispanics. Other groups, including Central Americans, Dominicans, South Americans and Cubans account for less than 5 percent of all Hispanics.
Hispanics are becoming more diverse within their own communities, Census 2000 reveals. Historically, Hispanics have been highly concentrated by ethnic background: Mexicans tended to cluster in the South and West, while Puerto Ricans tended to live in the Northeast and Cubans in Florida, for example. While this pattern still holds true today, Hispanic subcultures are penetrating into former ethnic strongholds. For example, in Houston, long dominated by Mexican Americans, a sizable Dominican and Guatemalan population has taken root, says JosÃ© VillaseÃ±or, vice president of the U.S. Hispanic Markets Group at Ketchum Inc., in Dallas.
Hispanics are also scattering throughout the country, according to Census 2000. While more than 75 percent of Hispanics live in the West or South, small but rapidly growing Hispanic populations are cropping up in all regions of the country. For example, the Hispanic population in the Midwest nearly doubled over the past decade. In Minnesota alone, the Hispanic populace grew by 166 percent, from a tiny 53,884 in 1990 to 143,382 today.
Many companies are trying to target Hispanics â€” witness McDonald's Corp. recent test of a Cuban sandwich and dulce de leche caramel sundae in select restaurants in South Florida. However, pushing ethnicity in flavors, music, language or commercial â€œface time,â€? may not translate to success among the Latino population, says Loretta H. Adams, president of TNS Market Development, a research firm in San Diego. She says that marketers must become aware of the subcultures of the Hispanic population. â€œFor businesses to be successful in penetrating the market, they will have to delve into the cultural and psychographic differences of the Hispanic population.â€?
Rapid Growth, Increasing Segmentation
AS ONE OF THE NATION'S SMALLEST ethnic groups, Asian Americans are much like other minority groups in one respect: they are rapidly growing in number. In 2000, 12 million Americans identified themselves as Asian alone, or Asian in combination with other races. That's up from just 6 million in 1990. But trends in the Asian American community are markedly different from other racial and ethnic groups in an important way: Asians have become increasingly segmented within their own communities.
Population growth in the Asian community over the past decade varied widely by ethnic subgroup. The number of Asian Indians in the U.S. shot up by 106 percent between 1990 and 2000, to 1.7 million; the number of Vietnamese rose by 83 percent to 1.1 million; while the number of Japanese actually decreased by 6 percent to just under 800,000. Accounting for these differences: varying rates of immigration, and different rates of acculturation. More Japanese Americans, for example, who have been in the country for a longer period of time than other Asian subgroups, may have selected two or more races on their census forms.
â€œThere really isn't one Asian American market,â€? says Nancy Shimamoto of San Francisco-based Hispanic & Asian Marketing Research, Inc. a division of Cheskin. What marketers must recognize, she says, is the cultural and linguistic differences among the Chinese American, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian and Pakistani markets. â€œThere is absolutely no common language or culture, and to find the ties that bind is extraordinarily difficult,â€? she says.
Businesses might find it worth the effort, however, because Asian households are far more affluent on average than all U.S. households and all other minority households. About 32 percent of Asian households have incomes of more than $50,000 compared with 29 percent in the entire U.S. population; and 39 percent have incomes topping $75,000, compared with 27 percent of the total population, according to the CPS. All told, Asian Americans' purchasing power is estimated at $254 billion this year, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth.
On the Radar Screen
IN THE MULTICULTURAL MARKETPLACE, the smallest minority group has actually called this continent home for a longer time than any other cultural group. There are just 2.5 million Native Americans in the U.S. today, although the number swells to over 4.1 million when you count the 2 million people who said they were Native American and a member of some other racial group.
Among Native Americans, the story of the past decade is increasing prosperity. Although historically plagued by poverty, this ethnic group has seen its financial power rise throughout the 1990s, thanks to an increase in earning power. Native American businesses, such as casinos, are changing the financial landscape of the Native American population. Reservation-based casinos and other gaming took in more than $5 billion last year, and some members of Native American tribes earned an estimated $600,000, according to census figures. Native Americans are also benefiting from the service, construction and retail sectors. Native American owned companies are growing faster than other U.S. companies, with $34 billion in revenue in 1997, a 179 percent increase over 1992, according the 2001 Economic Census.
A New Minority Emerges
Many Americans consider themselves to be members of more than one race, and census data has never been able to capture this multiracial identity. That is, until Census 2000, which gave people the option of selecting more than one race.
While this has made data difficult to compare with previous census statistics, it does provide a first look at the demographics of multiracial America. Some 7 million identified with two or more races, refusing to describe themselves as only white, black, Asian, Korean, Samoan or one of the other categories listed.
Although the number of those who indicated more than one race was seemingly insignificant â€” less than 3 percent of the population â€” their action was nothing short of momentous. Multiracials are a growing community composed largely of young people. Nearly 42 percent of multiracials are under 18 years of age, compared with 26 percent of the total population. The challenge for businesses, says CACI's Wombold, is that acculturation among ethnic groups has created a society that is more than the sum of its various cultures. The population that best reflects this trend: the multiracial. For businesses who use the census information to formulate plans, the data abyss is a â€œhuge challenge,â€? she says. â€œThe numbers are just so difficult to grasp since there is no basis for comparison.â€? At least until the next census.
THE NEW AFFLUENCE
Purchasing power among African Americans has risen by nearly 50 percent since 1996, thanks largely to steady gains in education and income during the past decade.
Source: Target Market News, â€œThe Buying Power of Black Americaâ€? 1997-2001
Hispanics now rival African Americans for the title of "largest minority group" in the nation. Here is a sampling of growth among the largest Hispanic segments:
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
ASIAN AMERICAN COMPLEXITY
Cultural and language differences among the swelling ranks of the Asian American population present new challenges for business.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Today, there are more than 4.1 million Native Americans in the United States. More than 4 in 10 consider themselves multiracial.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Demographics analysis