The Face of Local Counties Shifts With Surge in Minorities

By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 9, 2007

Fueled by an explosion of jobs attracting immigrants to the nation's suburbs, the percentage of minorities has dramatically increased in six local counties -- including Prince William, where the share of minorities grew from 35 percent in 2000 to 48 percent in 2006, according to census estimates to be released today.

In addition, Manassas Park was one of eight jurisdictions nationwide that shifted to majority-minority status in 2006, bringing the total number of counties in which minorities outnumber whites to 303 -- nearly one in 10 of the nation's 3,141 counties.

Of these, Los Angeles County's minority population of 7 million was by far the largest -- exceeding the total population of 38 states, and accounting for one in 14 of the nation's minority residents.

Locally, Charles County in Maryland and the Virginia counties of Prince William, Loudoun and Stafford, as well as the city of Manassas, remain majority-white, but the proportion of minorities increased at some of the fastest rates in the nation.

In 2000, minorities accounted for 33 percent of Charles's population. By 2006, they were 45 percent. Similarly, Stafford's share of minorities grew from 20 percent to 29 percent, and Loudoun's share increased from 20 percent to 32 percent.

In the case of Manassas Park and Manassas (both of which the census treats as the equivalent of a county) and Charles, the shift was partly attributable to a decline in the number of non-Hispanic white residents. But in Prince William, Loudoun and Stafford, the influx of non-Hispanic whites was simply dwarfed by the increase in minority residents.

A similar dynamic is occurring nationally, with the Hispanic population growing by 26 percent between 2000 and 2006, from 35 million to 44 million. Demographers said the effect of this growth has been further heightened by the increasing inclination of minorities -- particularly Hispanics -- to move beyond major metropolitan areas in which they have historically concentrated, into suburban, exurban and rural localities.

The Hispanic population continued to grow fastest in large metropolitan counties in the South from 2000 to 2006. But it also increased by 22 percent in small towns and rural areas in which the overall population growth was 3 percent.

"A lot of these rural places would have lost population if it weren't for their Hispanic population gains," said Mark Mather of the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau. He produced a report on the data with colleague Kelvin Pollard.

Mather and Pollard speculated that such areas are losing non-minority populations because of fewer jobs in family farming, manufacturing, mining and other longtime core industries. In their place, positions are being created in less-well-paying industries such as commercial agriculture, meatpacking and textiles. Those jobs attract foreign-born workers willing to labor for less money. By contrast, minority growth in suburban and exurban areas appears to be driven by the overall population increase of those areas, according to William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.

Large numbers of blacks are following the pattern of suburbanization that was more common among whites during earlier decades, Frey noted.

"Meanwhile, the movement of a lot of middle-class whites to the suburbs and exurbs has spawned a whole new industry of jobs in construction, landscaping and housekeeping that suburban residents don't want to do and which therefore attract immigrants," he said.

That cycle may help explain why Stafford, Loudoun and Prince William, along with three other Virginia counties (Culpeper, Fauquier and Spotsylvania) and Frederick County, Md., have among the top 20 fastest-growing Hispanic populations in the nation.

Culpeper ranked second, with an increase in its Hispanic population from 858 in 2000 to 3,111 in 2006, or 7 percent of the population.

The newcomers have contributed to economic growth in those counties, but they have also provoked social tensions.

County governments in Prince William and Loudoun have passed measures to deny public services to illegal immigrants, intended to discourage them from settling there. And yesterday, Culpeper's Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution declaring English the county's official language.

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