Data Show Minorities' Movement To Majority
Friday, August 4, 2006
In a region that began the decade with a largely white population, five of six new residents in the Washington area since 2000 have been people of color, according to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Racial and ethnic changes have been particularly vivid in outer suburbs such as Prince William County, where the number of Hispanics more than doubled between 2000 and 2005. Hispanics overtook blacks as that county's largest minority group. In Frederick County, the Hispanic population doubled, and in Loudoun County, the Asian population quadrupled.
The region added nearly a half-million residents between 2000 and 2005, according to the census estimates. While that meant an 8 percent increase in total population, racial minorities grew at a much faster pace: Hispanics increased by 34 percent and Asians by 27 percent.
"A lot of the population increase of the suburban part of Washington is being fueled by Hispanics and Asians, and to some extent blacks," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.
Some embassy officials and advocacy groups say the population figures for minority groups could be even higher because the census undercounts those groups.
In Frederick County, Maritza Yeron, who heads Centro de Familia, an organization that helps recent immigrants, doubted the official estimates that the local Hispanic population grew from 4,535 in 2000 to 9,852 in 2005.
"We know there's more than that -- I would say about 15,000 to 18,000," Yeron said. She said immigrants are easily missed by the census because they are often afraid of authorities and try to keep a low profile.
According to the new numbers, whites make up 55 percent of the Washington area population, while racial and ethnic minorities comprise 45 percent. At the beginning of the decade, whites were 58 percent of the total.
The change takes the region closer to the day Washington joins Miami, Los Angeles and other major metropolitan areas where the traditional minority communities together constitute the majority. If current trends continue, Frey predicts, the Washington region will flip to a majority made up of minorities by 2010.
That designation could have profound implications for everything from commerce to politics to culture.
Dino E. Flores Jr., a Republican candidate for Frederick County state's attorney, said he sees the changes as he drives along Route 40 and passes stores catering to a Latino population hailing from Mexico and from El Salvador, Guatemala and other Central American countries. The changes also are apparent in the increasingly diverse juries he sees in court and among his legal clients, who don't just work as dishwashers and landscapers but also as manufacturers and businesspeople.
Public services have struggled to keep up with the tide of newcomers: The Frederick city police department has hired several Spanish-speaking officers, and a new community center, Centro Hispano, opened in the St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church's community center in downtown Frederick.
It's unclear whether the demographic shifts will be placid or marked by conflict.
"When you go out to a restaurant or when you go to a store to purchase something, you're automatically, if you look Latino, if you look Hispanic -- you know, dark hair, dark eyes -- automatically people think you're illegal here," said Yeron of Centro de Familia, who came from Puerto Rico 43 years ago.
Reynaldo Castellon, an immigrant from El Salvador, is among the 34,000 Hispanics who moved to Prince William County between 2000 and 2005, according to the census estimate.
Castellon bought a townhouse in Manassas in 2003 after renting for several years in Alexandria. Last year, he moved again, this time inside the county, to a single-family house in Woodbridge.
Castellon, 43, a construction worker and father of three, said Prince William's great appeal was affordability. "It was too expensive in Alexandria to buy," he said.
Nelson Castro, a real estate agent at Todos Realty in Prince William, said many Hispanic residents have flocked to the growing county because they can find work at construction sites. "There are a lot of jobs and new opportunities," he said.
An expanded public bus system is another draw, Castro said. "Five years ago, we struggled to go from Point A to Point B," he said. "Now, they can go from A to B to C. "
The county has also hired Latino police officers and new Latino groceries have opened, making Prince William feel more hospitable to Hispanics. "It's a more comfortable place to be," Castro said. "It used to be a little bit of racism, but now I think people are getting used to living among the Latino."
Another sign of the region's expanding diversity is the increase in residents who identify themselves as multiracial. In Montgomery County, for example, about 5,000 more people belonged to more than one racial group, increasing from about 15,000 in 2000 to roughly 20,000 in 2005.
The population figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau today are estimates of those living in the country on July 1, 2005. Between decennial censuses, the bureau releases annual population revisions that are based on birth and death rates and migration trends.
The figures released today for the Washington region do not reflect changes to the population numbers for the District of Columbia that the Census Bureau approved last week, after the city challenged earlier data and said the census had undercounted the city's population by more than 31,000 people.
Staff writers Nelson Hernandez, Nikita Stewart and Karin Bruillard contributed to this report.