The United States grew steadily more diverse last year, with Hispanics holding on to their rank as the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group -- a trend with far-reaching implications for American politics and immigration policies.

Minority members

New Census Bureau figures show that the nation's Hispanic population grew by 1.4 million in 2007 to reach 45.5 million people, or 15.1 percent of the total U.S. population of 301.6 million. Blacks ranked as the second-largest minority group, at 40.7 million people.

Racial and ethnic minorities account for more than one in three Americans, a new milepost on the United States' inexorable journey toward greater diversity and a harbinger of the growing political clout of non-whites. Voting booths are being watched closely this year for Hispanic turnout.

Kids lead growth

The shift was even more pronounced among children younger than 5, already nearly a majority nationally. From 2006 to 2007, the Census Bureau said, the Hispanic population grew by 3.3 percent, compared with 2.9 percent for Asians, 1.3 percent for blacks and 0.3 percent for non-Hispanic whites.

Minnesota numbers

In Minnesota, as of July 1, 2007, there were 205,896 Hispanics, compared with 145,000 in July 2000, a 42 percent change. Minnesota remains about 86 percent white.

Asian numbers grow

Since the decade began, the number of Asians increased even faster than Hispanics in 14 states, generally those with large Hispanic populations, including Connecticut, New Jersey and New York.

Big numbers in Texas

The latest estimates dramatize the breadth of the nation's growing diversity, even as nearly one-third of the people whom the census classifies as members of those minority groups live in California and Texas. (Texas has overtaken California as the biggest gainer of Hispanic residents.)

Immigration issues

Tensions over the growing U.S. Spanish-speaking population have been mounting, driven by the fears of many political conservatives that the country is being overrun by both legal and illegal immigrants, the majority of them from Mexico.

"There's a real perception among some Americans right now that immigration is suddenly at their front door," said David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. "They are not convinced that those groups are going to effectively assimilate. And they are very concerned that our way of life ... is going to have to change as a result of that."

Economic pressure

The census showed a slight drop in immigration to the United States by Hispanics from July 1, 2006, to July 1, 2007, vs. the previous 12-month period. That suggests the U.S. economic slowdown might have had some impact on immigration.

Also, a survey released Wednesday found fewer Latin American immigrants are regularly sending money to their home countries because of the slumping U.S. economy and a growing "anti-immigrant" climate.

Lifeline cut

As a consequence, millions of poor families in Latin America will not get the vital help the money provides, the survey by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) concluded. "This snapshot in time is not a pretty picture," said Donald F. Terry, general manager of the IDB's Multilateral Investment Fund, at a news conference. He called the remittances "the most effective and important poverty-reduction program in Latin America."