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February 2006

The Changing Face of North Carolina

In a word, North Carolina is diverse, from our unique geography to the people that call the Tar Heel State home.

Among the many inhabitants, Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group, a population which increased by 400 percent between 1990 and 2000. According to U.S. Census estimates, more than half a million Latinos currently live in North Carolina, comprising six percent of the overall population. The actual number is, undoubtedly, higher.

Native Spanish speakers are significant to North Carolina's landscape, not only culturally but economically. In 2002, Latinos contributed $9 billion in purchases to the state's economy. They also comprise much of our workforce, helping to sustain industries vital to North Carolina’s continued economic growth.

Typically, first generation Latinos living in the United States are healthier than their English-speaking counterparts. Recent trends in other states, however, indicate that health declines with assimilation to American lifestyle. Coinciding with this, Latinos often face many additional health challenges including poverty, dangerous occupations, unsanitary living conditions as well as cultural and language barriers to care.

As health advocates, we are responsible for the well-being of all North Carolinians regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or immigration status. And while Title VI assures equal access to care under the law, proactive measures must be taken to ensure Spanish speakers are effectively and appropriately served.

This means moving beyond translating existing health messages to incorporating phrases and images tailored to the audience’s specific needs. What is appropriate for native North Carolinians is, in many cases, irrelevant and even confusing for Latinos.

Additionally, many foreign-born residents need assistance understanding our healthcare system and practices, which can vary greatly from what they are accustomed. New concepts can include consistent preventative health care and appropriate use of emergency rooms, among others.

And while some Latinos cannot access public services as a result of immigration status, their American-born children are eligible. In many cases, however, parents need assistance identifying and accessing what is available.

The bilingual NC Family Health Resource Line (1-800-367-2999) is an excellent resource, providing guidance for individuals as well as community workers and health advocates. At the North Carolina Healthy Start Foundation, we have recently launched a new Spanish language version of our Web site, providing detailed information pertaining to infant mortality, women’s health, child care and children’s health insurance programs.

In short, by helping Spanish speakers overcome systemic barriers related to care, we are benefiting not only a specific population, but the health of our entire state.

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Last updated: February 2006


At a glance

  • Latinos are the nation’s largest minority group
  • 77% of North Carolina Latinos are under the age of 35
  • Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro have three of the nation’s four fastest growing Latino populations

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