WASHINGTON -- The racial complexion of the American population changed more dramatically in the past decade than at any other time in the 20th century, with nearly one in every four Americans having African, Asian, Hispanic or American Indian ancestry. In 1980, one in five Americans had such minority backgrounds.
In the field of population statistics, where change sometimes seems glacially slow, the speed at which the country's racial mix was altered in the 1980s was breathtaking, Census Bureau figures show.
The rate of increase in the minority population was nearly twice as fast as in the 1970s. And much of the surge was among those of Hispanic ancestry, an increase of 7.7 million people, or 56 percent, over 1980.
"About half the Hispanic increase is due to immigration," said Jorge del Pinal, the bureau's chief of ethnic and Hispanic statistics. "But there would have been a tremendous growth even in the absence of any immigration."
The increase was also a result of high birth rates among Hispanic people, the legalization of many new Hispanic citizens and the counting of illegal residents.
With the wave of immigration from Latin America, and separate influxes from the Philippines, China, India and Southeast Asia, the total number of minority residents rose to between 61 million and 62 million.
The exact figure will not be known until the people who identified themselves as "other race" are statistically allocated among the four categories recognized for census purposes: white, black, Asian or Native American.
Whites now make up 80.3 percent of the nation's resident population. This group includes the vast majority of Hispanic residents, who can be of any race.
Whites of European or Middle Eastern backgrounds make up slightly less than 76 percent of the resident population of 248.7 million people.
Blacks, the largest minority, are about 12 percent of the population. Hispanic people are about 9 percent, Asians about 3 percent and American Indians about 0.8 percent.