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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah's Latino population is estimated by the Census Bureau to have grown 10 percent in two years, a little more than 1 percent more that the Hispanic growth nationally.
Census Bureau estimates released Wednesday put Utah's Hispanic population as of July 2002 at about 224,304, compared to 203,895 in July 2000. In that same period, the state's population as a whole was figured to have grown about 31/4 percent to 2,316,256.
By those figures, Latinos as a percentage of the state's population increased from about 9.1 percent to 9.7 percent.
Latinos now comprise over 13 percent of the overall populations of Salt Lake and Weber counties. In Tooele County, the Latino population has nearly doubled, jumping 41 percent since the census was taken.
Analysts cited higher birth rates for Hispanics and a continued influx of new immigrants looking for jobs as key reasons for the increase.
"Hispanic immigrants are coming here for jobs and quality of life," said University of Georgia demographer Douglas Bachtel. "They are taking jobs that a lot of Americans don't want, like construction, landscaping and in the service economy."
Family ties are factor in the continued immigration, according to a Utah official.
"What you have going on now is that people have established themselves here. They think Utah is a good place to live and raise a family, so let's bring Grandma," Tony Yapias, director of the state Office of Hispanic Affairs, said earlier this month. "A lot of these folks have brought their families."
Yapias said while the Latino population continues to grow, the increase was not as large as in the economic boom of the 1990s.
Hispanics are the nation's largest minority group. The Census Bureau released a report in June that found the Latino population stood at 38.8 million, an increase of almost 9 percent in the two years ending July 2002. That was four times the growth rate for the U.S. population overall and about 14 times greater than the rate for non-Hispanic whites.
The increase in Utah will affect statewide policy, Yapias said.
"It's been known for some time that our community (Latinos) continues to grow," Yapias said. "But at the same time, state agencies have continued to look to make sure services are provided equally."
He said state agency directors are looking for people who are bilingual and bicultural to work on courts, in schools and at the Department of Child and Family Services.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)