Census Numbers Show Lehigh Valley Diversifying: Hispanic Population Now a Majority in Allentown
The U.S. Census Bureau’s population data shows that after years of population growth, the Hispanic population has become a large majority of Allentown, with the Lehigh Valley facing a decline in the population of whites over the last decade.
Hispanic Population Growth in Lehigh Valley
As of 2020, approximately 54 percent of the city’s population, more than 68,000 people, identified themselves as Hispanic. This makes Allentown the third-largest city in Pennsylvania in terms of the percentage of the Hispanic population. Reading is 69 percent Hispanic with the highest Hispanic population, and Hazleton is second with 63 percent.
Additionally, Bethlehem’s Hispanic population has increased by 21 percent over the last decade to about 22,000, comprising about 29 percent of the city’s population.
Increase in Employment Opportunities the Reason for Hispanic Growth
Julio Guridy, a member of the Allentown City Council, said that due to undercounting, the actual Hispanic population could be closer to 70,000. Guridy attributed the tremendous growth in the Hispanic population to the increase in employment opportunities. The Lehigh Valley region has seen a spike in employment opportunities, with local warehouses and Allentown’s proximity to places like New York City and Poconos.
Muhlenberg College Spanish professor, Erika Sutherland, said the Lehigh Valley’s growing population is also increasingly highly educated and more interested in participating in politics.
Executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, Becky Bradley, said that they tend to become diverse as the regions grow. She said some of the reasons Lehigh Valley has become diverse are that more international companies are relocating there, and some businesses are looking to expand global markets. Some of these international companies bring their employees with them, some look for a workforce with a diverse population, and businesses are looking to expand their global market.
Growing Hispanic Population Calls for Spanish-Speaking Services
The extensive growth in the Hispanic population requires many interpreters in schools, police departments, and health networks. Sutherland has founded Grupo de Apoyo e Integracion Hispanoamericano, a Hispanic immigrant support group. Spanish-speaking interpreters are especially needed in emergency and high-stress situations. Sutherland said that such services are limited.
“Some people might say, ‘Why can’t they just speak English?’ Most people do, but in a stressful situation whatever English they have will go out the window,” Sutherland said. “Studies have shown this is true for any language, no matter how good you are.” Sutherland added that there is a dearth of programs that teach English as a second language in Allentown or the greater Lehigh Valley to meet the demand of Spanish speakers who want to enroll in an English course.
Changes in Demographics in Lehigh Valley Municipalities
The increase in Asian populations has been small, with the exception of Upper Macungie Township, which has seen significant growth among its Asian population. Upper Macungie now houses Lehigh Valley’s largest group of Asian residents, nearly 3,800. From 2010-2020, Upper Macungie gained 2,000 Asian residents, which translates to a 111percent increase. Upper Macungie now accounts for 16 percent of the Lehigh Valley’s Asian residents, despite accounting for only 3 percent of the region’s total population.
The Black population in Upper Macungie has more than doubled to 1,067 residents, growing from just under 450 over the last decade. During the same period, Allentown added 1,857 Black residents, which is the largest growth in the Valley. Most other regions of Lehigh Valley also witnessed a growth in the black population, but by small margins.
Decrease in White Population
Many Lehigh Valley municipalities saw their white populations decline, which is also a trend at the national level. Allentown’s white population fell by nearly 13,000 residents, a 25 percent decrease, from 2010 to 2020. Bethlehem’s white population declined by approximately 6,600 people. Upper Macungie, the fastest-growing municipality in the state, saw the largest percentage increase in white population of any municipality in the Valley, totaling 21 percent (1,216 people). Upper Macungie’s white population grew by 9 percent, or 1,514 people.