Hispanic populations have grown around the country, but fastest in the South, with Georgia leading the nation with 16.8 percent growth from 2000 to 2002, according to Census Bureau estimates released Thursday.
Of the 10 states with the highest influx of Hispanics, six are in the South: Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina, Virginia and Alabama.
Hispanics were drawn to the South because the region needed workers for manual labor in industries such as agriculture, construction, textiles and janitorial work, said Charles Gallagher, a sociology professor at Georgia State University.
"A toilet doesn't get flushed in a hotel, an onion doesn't get cut in a restaurant and a frame doesn't get built on a house without Latino labor," he said.
Following Georgia, Washington, D.C., had the second-highest Hispanic growth, at 16 percent. There were 15.7 percent more Hispanics in North Carolina, 15 percent more in Nevada and 13.9 percent more in Kentucky.
The migration of Hispanics from Latin America to the United States follows a pattern set by many other immigrant groups — spurred by poverty, they seek a new life and better wages in America, Gallagher said.
While Hispanics may make $6 or $7 an hour in labor-intense jobs in the United States, the American dream of social mobility may be out of reach for many of them, he said. That's because higher-paying jobs requiring more education are already filled.
"This is as good as it gets for them," Gallagher said. "It's hard work, it's dangerous work, it's repetitious work. Folks who have been in the U.S. for a few generations, they won't work these jobs."
Longtime Georgia residents said Wednesday it was easy to see the increasing number of Hispanics in the state.
"How couldn't you notice?" asked Pauline Jenkins, as she waited at a bus stop in downtown Atlanta. "They've got a right to be here. Treat everybody fair, that's all I'm saying."
By Mark Niesse