Sunday, March 26, 2023

Latinos in Iowa: a growing community, a growing force in politics  


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Written by Amanda Smith and Zoë Haggard/ Seigenthaler Center

Zoe Haggard and Amanda Smith are two of six MTSU journalism students who recently spent four days in Iowa learning about the caucus system. Funding was provided by the Seigenthaler Center for Excellence in First Amendment Studies.

DES MOINES, Iowa– Deimy has lived in Iowa for 14 years with her three sons, having followed her brothers to the U.S. from El Salvador.

She works at the Hampton Inn in downtown Des Moines, and because of that, finds she will not have time to attend the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3, 2020, or the events leading up to it. Deimy, who asked that her last name not be used, said she doesn’t plan to vote either.

When one hears that Iowa has one of the largest growing Latino communities in the country, it may come as a surprise, especially since non-Hispanics make up more than 90 percent of the corn-growing state.

In 2018, the US Census reported the Latino population in Iowa was just above six percent.

“It’s well known that the Latino community has been growing exponentially for the past 15 years,” said Joe Henry, the state political director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, based in Des Moines.

However, the increase in their population has led to an increase in challenges, especially when it comes to encouraging the Latino community to attend caucuses and vote.

The Appeal of the Hawkeye State 

Before 1990, the demographic in Iowa was nearly all Caucasian. The lack of variation and the large number of young new graduates fleeing the state for something different had the city at a halt, and resulted in the city being called “Dead Moines.”

Of the almost 200,000 Latinos now in Iowa, the median age is 23, compared to Iowa’s median age of 38. So, it’s a young, new, working group of people.

This combined with “white flight” occurring throughout Iowa has opened up an opportunity–if not a need–to encourage immigration.

Latinos (orange) only make up about three percent of the population. That is expected to change in 2050 when they are estimated to constitute about 12 percent of the population in Iowa. (Dark blue is the African American population, yellow are Native Americans, and grey are all others too low to calculate.)
Blue- projected Caucasian population, Orange- projected Latino population. Gray- all other Blue- projected Caucasian population, Orange- projected Latino population. Gray- all other projected populations. 


Without that migrated growth, the population would have dipped to stagnation, according to Henry.

“If you’re not already related to a Latino in Iowa, you will be soon,” Henry said with a chuckle.

Also, Iowa is in the Texas corridor, meaning it receives many migrants heading north from Texas. It’s also a right-to-work state, which means employees can work with a labor union without the sense of security of protecting your job.

The basic industry and agricultural jobs that dominate the market in Iowa attract the majority of migrating Latinos to Iowa.

For example, more than 26 percent of Latinos are in the production, transportation, and material moving industry–which makes up about 18 percent of Iowa’s workforce–while 23 percent are in the service industry, especially food, according to the Iowa Data Center.

During the Recession over a decade ago, the “planting to processing” jobs held mainly by Latinos were what allowed the communities around Iowa to rebuild and continue growth, according to Henry.

Latinos and the Caucus 

With such influence, the Iowa caucuses have become a potential platform for this growing community to voice their wants.

“We plan on engaging in the caucuses,” said Henry. And they have already experienced an increase in the amount of registered Latino voters.

The Democratic presidential candidates are speaking about issues that directly impact the Latino community, according to Henry. Issues like immigration reform, job growth in basic industrial and agricultural markets, and healthcare are all amplified among Latinos.

The goal today for the Latino community, according to Henry, is to double the amount of Latinos participating in the caucuses. There are currently 53,000 registered Latino voters, a number which has doubled from 2007.

LULAC plans to do this through field campaigns, voter registration, mailings, and going door-to-door–in all, getting direct contact with the community.

“There were 170,000 participants in the caucuses in 2016. Only one in eight of them were Latino…We hope to see that change to one in four,” said Henry.

To contact Editor-in-Chief Angele Latham, email

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