Byline: Ira P. Schneiderman

NEW YORK — The minority population of the U.S. is growing rapidly, both in numbers and buying power, representing a major opportunity for the apparel industry, if marketers are savvy enough to cater to the changing tastes of a diverse nation.
In particular, Latino people are becoming an important presence across the U.S., and with observers predicting that they will represent the largest minority group in this country within the decade, retailers should be ready to react.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanic people — the term the bureau uses to describe persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central American or South American ethnic descent, as well as others who identify themselves as having Hispanic ancestry, who may be either white or black — represented 11.4 percent of the U.S. population in 1998, or about 30.8 million people.
It’s a fast-growing group, up 35.1 percent since 1990. For comparison, the total U.S. population rose 8.3 percent over the same time period.
By 2005, the Bureau expects the Hispanic population of this country to grow another 18.3 percent, to represent a total of 36.1 million people. That would make Hispanic people the largest single minority group in the U.S.
The Bureau projects that over the same time period, the population of non-Hispanic black Americans — the Bureau uses the word black to describe a racial characteristic, not an ethnicity — will grow 8.5 percent, to 35.5 million. In 1999, according to the bureau, black Americans represented 12.7 percent of the U.S. population.
The high growth rate of the Latino population in this country is being driven by both high rates of immigration and by high birth rates. That also means that the U.S. Latino population is younger than many other ethnic groups.
Latino Americans’ spending ability power is also growing. According to the Census Bureau, in 1997 the total buying power of the Hispanic population was $350 billion, up 66 percent since 1990.
The spending power of African Americans is also on the rise. According to a survey by Ariel Mutual Funds and Charles Schwab, the buying power of African Americans rose by 66 percent, to $600 billion, from 1990 to 1998.
While the overall population of Latinos is growing dramatically, the effects of that growth aren’t spread evenly across the country. California, the greater New York metropolitan area, the Chicago area, south Florida and south Texas have particularly large Latino populations. Within these areas, she emphasized, retailers must focus on local tastes.

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