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North Carolina’s Hispanic Population is Now Greater Than One Million People

By Rebecca Tippett / Carolina Demography

North Carolina’s Hispanic population is now greater than one million people, with 1,118,596 residents according to the 2020 Census. The state’s Hispanic/Latino population grew from just over 75,000 in 1990 to 800,000 in 2010. Between 2010 and 2020, North Carolina’s Hispanic population grew by nearly 320,000 new residents, the largest numeric increase of any racial/ethnic group in the state. Statewide, the Latinx population grew by 40% over the decade, faster than the growth of this population nationwide (23%).

The Hispanic/Latinx communities in Mecklenburg County (170K) and Wake County (128K) comprise over a quarter of the Hispanic population statewide. The counties with the next largest Hispanic populations are Forsyth (5K), Guilford (52K), and Durham (50K) counties. On the other hand, in 21 North Carolina counties, there were fewer than 1,000 Hispanic residents in 2020.

Statewide, 10.7% of North Carolina’s population is Hispanic or Latino, just over half the national average (18.7%). Though the Hispanic population is smaller in more rural counties, many of these counties have seen faster growth in this population over the past 30 years. As a result, Hispanic or Latino residents comprise a greater share of the population in many less populated, rural counties. In Duplin County, for example, 22% of residents are Hispanic; Sampson (21%) and Lee (21%) have similarly high proportions.

The Latinx population also grew steadily in many urban and suburban counties. As of 2020, Johnston County had the fourth highest Hispanic population share (16%) followed by Durham (15%). Mecklenburg not only had the largest number of Latinx residents, but 15% of its population identified as Hispanic or Latino in 2020, the 7th-highest rate statewide.

Approximately six of every ten Hispanics living in North Carolina are U.S.-born. Between 2000 and 2010, there were increases in both the U.S.-born and foreign-born Hispanic populations in North Carolina, though the U.S.-born population grew more quickly. 2010 marked the first year that more than half of the state’s Latino residents were born in the United States. Since 2010, the population of foreign-born Hispanic or Latino residents has grown much slower than domestic-born Latino residents. Primarily, the state’s Hispanic population has grown from births to current residents of North Carolina and from in-migration of U.S.-born Hispanic residents from other states.

Both U.S.- and foreign-born Latino populations represent a diversity of cultural/ethnic origins. Among the foreign-born population, Mexico is the leading country of origin: 217,000 individuals were born in Mexico, representing 54% of the state’s foreign-born Hispanic population. The Central American countries of Honduras (44K), El Salvador (36K), and Guatemala (25K) are the next most common countries of origin; 26% of foreign-born Hispanic/Latino North Carolinians are from one of these three countries.

Among all North Carolina Hispanic or Latino residents, including those born in the United States, 54% identify Mexican as their primary ancestry; 11% identify as Puerto Rican; and another 19% are of a Central American background like Salvadoran, Honduran, and Guatemalan.

For more details on North Carolina’s Hispanic population, you can download our annual data snapshot of the Hispanic/Latino population (pdf).

Terminology note: The U.S. Census Bureau introduced the term Hispanic in 1980 and this is a term preferred by some Hispanic/Latino populations. The term Latino became more commonly used in the 1990s and is preferred by others. Most recently, younger Latinas and Latinos have introduced the more gender-neutral term Latinx. In these posts and materials, we use the terms Hispanic, Latino, and Latinx interchangeably.