Va.'s numbers of Hispanics and Asians skyrocket as white population dwindles

February 3, 2011

Soaring numbers of Hispanics and Asians pushed Virginia's population over 8 million in the past decade, transforming the state into a far more diverse place, according to census figures released Thursday.

The state's white population barely grew. As a result, fewer than two-thirds of all Virginians are now white.

Northern Virginia cemented its position as the state's growth engine, responsible for half of the state's increase of 922,000 people in the past decade. Almost 40 percent of the growth in the state occurred in three Northern Virginia counties: Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun.

The 2010 Census numbers underscore how the home of the former capital of the Confederacy is evolving into a mosaic of races and ethnicities from around the world. It has grown by a third in the past two decades, and its very character is changing. Today, seven of 10 Virginians live in three big urban areas, and Virginia's once-mighty rural areas are shrinking. Dozens of small towns, mostly in the rural southwest and Southside, lost residents.

With a population of 2.4 million, Northern Virginia is certain to reap the benefits of its torrid growth. The spoils will lead to more political power in Richmond and more resources for roads and schools.

"The good news is that Northern Virginia is going to get representation, so we can get our due," said Kenneth Reid, a Leesburg Town Council member.

Reid said his little town has grown so rapidly that he wishes he had taken a video of how the county seat used to look, preserving for posterity its once-bucolic nature. The highways and strip malls had yet to be built when he moved to Leesburg nine years ago.

Loudoun County was in a league of its own in the past decade, adding 142,000 residents. As with the state as a whole, much of the growth was fueled by minorities. The Asian population quintupled, Hispanics tripled and blacks doubled. Non-Hispanic whites increased at a much slower pace and today account for a little more than six in 10 residents in the county.

Statewide, the number of Hispanics almost doubled, to 632,000. Hispanics now make up 8 percent of Virginia residents, and a third are younger than 18, a harbinger of future growth as young people come of age and have children. In contrast, just about one in five of all non-Hispanics in Virginia is a child.

The state's Asian population also took off, climbing by 68 percent in 10 years.

In a state that in living memory had anti-miscegenation laws on the books, there was a striking jump in the number of Virginians who describe themselves as multiracial. The number rose from 90,000 to 233,000 in the past decade. A third of the growth was in Northern Virginia, and most of the rest was in the Hampton Roads area and Central Virginia.

Although the numbers were much smaller, multiracial residents also doubled in many rural sections of the state.

As recently as 1990, non-Hispanic whites made up 76 percent of the state's residents. A decade later, their numbers had fallen to 70 percent, and last year, they accounted for less than two-thirds of the state's residents.

Meanwhile, the state's non-Hispanic black population held steady at just over 19 percent.

Virginia's Hispanic population has shown the most dramatic increase. Qian Cai, director of the demographics group at the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, said immigration alone is not responsible for all the growth.

"It's also the higher fertility of immigrants," she said. "There's been a lot of growth in the minority population."

Virginia was one of four states whose detailed population numbers were released this week; the others were Louisiana, Mississippi and New Jersey. The Census Bureau gave the four states priority because all have statehouse elections this year and must scurry to redraw legislative districts before candidate filing deadlines roll around.

In Richmond, receipt of the numbers is the first step in the once-a-decade political grudge match over how those lines will be redrawn to match the state's population. In April, the General Assembly will meet in a special session to redraw legislative maps to abide by state and federal laws that require every district to include about the same number of residents. Districts that have grown quickly over the past decade will need to shrink. Areas where growth has come more slowly will expand to include more people.

"This is it. This is where we move from speculative to real data, and everybody will be starting, this morning, to dump in that real data, to move real lines and to figure out how is this going to go," said Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Winchester), a lawyer who specializes in redistricting and voting issues. The census data show that her Senate district - which stretches from Clarke County into western Loudoun and Fauquier - has about 27,000 more people than it should.

Virginia faces additional deadline pressure because it is one of 19 states that must have its redistricting approved by the U.S. Justice Department, because of a past pattern of discrimination. Even now, minorities make up less than 15 percent of the 140 members of the General Assembly.

The redistricting creates opportunities for lawmakers from Northern Virginia, who have long complained that too many of the region's tax dollars are sent to other parts of the state.

In rural areas and in some parts of Hampton Roads, redrawing the lines will mean merged legislative districts and reduced influence.

"Over the last two redistrictings, we've learned a very important lesson," said state Sen. William C. Wampler Jr. (R-Bristol), whose district will need to grow geographically to pick up more than 16,000 additional voters.

"As a rural delegation, forget whether you're Democrat or Republican; we've got to work together, because the population growth will take a seat from rural Virginia and give it to Northern Virginia."

Even within Northern Virginia, the growth patterns have changed as the leading edge of growth has moved away from Washington, out of Fairfax and into Loudoun, Prince William and beyond.

"It feels a little odd for us, because that's always been our place, 'fastest-growing,' " said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D). "But it's not a surprise, because we've watched some of our sister jurisdictions growing, and they're experiencing some of the same growth pressures that we used to."

morelloc@washpost.com keatingd@washpost.com heldermanr@washpost.com

Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this article.

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