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Minorities Driving Growth in D.C. Area

By D'Vera Cohn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2004; Page A01

Asians, Latinos and other minorities accounted for two-thirds of the Washington region's recent population growth, according to new census figures that point to dramatic increases in counties well beyond the Capital Beltway.

The census figures, scheduled to be released today, cover the period from the 2000 Census to July 2003 and also indicate an uptick in the white population of close-in Arlington and Alexandria, a reversal of recent trends.

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D.C. Area's Rising Population
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Non-Hispanic whites remain the majority in the region of 5.7 million people, but the census figures show that minorities produced more than half of the population growth in most local jurisdictions. As blacks, Latinos, Asians and others seek opportunities farther from the city, that trend holds even in outer suburbs, including Charles, Howard and Prince William counties. In Loudoun County, minorities represented 40 percent of recent growth.

"You've got some black suburbanization, you've got Asian movement to the suburbs, and then, of course, the growing Hispanic population is making its way out there," said William H. Frey, a University of Michigan demographer who studies metropolitan areas. "Some of them are total suburbanites, and the others are moving out because of the jobs being created there."

Frey found that Prince William and Loudoun had among the largest declines among counties nationwide in the white share of their populations. This, he said, shows that minority numbers are growing faster than white ones, although these communities remain appealing to whites.

The census figures indicate that as the region grew nearly 6 percent from 2000 to 2003, its Hispanic population went up 19 percent and its Asian population, 17 percent. The black and white populations grew about 3 percent each. The census figures said the region is now 57 percent non-Hispanic white, 24 percent black, 9 percent Hispanic and 8 percent Asian.

Many new Latino and Asian residents are immigrants, reflecting the region's ranking as a top metropolitan destination for the foreign-born. Their growing presence has created demand for English classes, document translations and other services.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington, one of the nation's fastest-growing because it has tapped into the burgeoning immigrant community, now offers Spanish-language Masses at 29 of its 66 parishes. In the past year, it has added Spanish-language Masses in exurban Purcellville and Middleburg and a service for Portuguese-speaking African immigrants in Prince William.

The Rev. Richard A. Mullins, diocesan director of multicultural ministries, said the diocese also is focusing on the growing Filipino population in Manassas and Loudoun and hopes to incorporate their holiday traditions in its services. "Even though they worship in English, they are desiring to express their own cultural identity," he said. "And [they think] it's important that their children who have become very Americanized in these outer suburbs retain a sense of belonging to that Filipino culture."

Young-chan Han came to Montgomery County from Korea as a child. Now in her forties, she is the immigrant family outreach coordinator for Howard County schools, arranging English classes for children and translations of school documents for parents. As the next step, she said, she wants to start a leadership training program to encourage the county's new arrivals to become more active in school affairs.

"We need to see more culturally diverse representation in the PTAs . . . and leadership roles," she said. "It's happening, but it's very slow in happening."

The census numbers showed that the black population -- and its share of the total population -- continued to decline in the District, as it has for several decades, reflecting a losing contest with the suburbs. The city's population was 58 percent black in 2003, according to the estimates, down from 60 percent in 2000.

That decrease is in part responsible for increases elsewhere. An increasingly popular destination for black residents is Charles County, where black residents accounted for two-thirds of recent growth. Reginald Kearney, a minister at Zion Baptist Church in Charles County, said many new arrivals resist his invitations to come to church because they are loyal to congregations in Washington or Prince George's. He said he is more hopeful about plans to start a chapter of the historically black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha in Charles County this year.

"It would be no problem getting 30, 40, 50 [members]," he said. He is confident because of the greetings he gets when he displays the fraternity logo: "I run into guys all the time."

The census figures indicate that the number of whites living in Prince George's continued to drop, and there was a small decline in Fairfax County. But the number and population share of whites rose slightly in Alexandria and Arlington.

In Arlington, the numbers mesh with county school enrollment figures that indicate a growing number of white students since 2000. In Alexandria, white enrollment has been flat since 2000, after dropping in other years.

Some experts say that close-in suburban neighborhoods such as those in Alexandria and Arlington are becoming more appealing to affluent whites as traffic worsens farther out. Ralph Rosenbaum, Alexandria's demographer, said that he is skeptical until he sees more data but that much of the housing being built in the city -- 2,000 homeowner units and 2,500 rentals from 2000 to 2003 -- is geared to well-off people.

The census estimates are considered less accurate than door-to-door counts taken every 10 years. They are based largely on government records such as birth and death certificates, visa data and tax returns.


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