By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2010; B01
Hispanics fueled much of the population growth in Maryland and Virginia last year, mirroring a pattern echoed around the country, according to census statistics released Thursday.
More than half of Maryland's 66,000 new residents in 2009 were Hispanic. In Virginia, Hispanics represented a third of the state's 113,000 new residents. In contrast, most of the District's population gain came from non-Hispanic whites, part of a shift that is expected to affect the mayoral election this fall.
Even the recession did not dampen population growth in the region, particularly in Northern Virginia. Fairfax and Arlington counties gained more residents last year than in any single year during the past decade. Loudoun County remained among the fastest-growing counties in the nation.
The rise of Hispanics in the Washington region was part of a fundamental shift in a nation that is becoming increasingly minority as the population of non-Hispanic whites remains virtually static and grows older.
Minorities make up 35 percent of the U.S. population, another notch toward the day expected midcentury when non-Hispanic whites will become a minority group.
The statistics also show a continuing rise in the number of people who identify themselves as biracial or multiracial. More than 5 million people are multiracial, up 150,000 last year.
That was true even in Virginia, which less than five decades ago had a Racial Integrity Act that made marriage between whites and non-whites illegal. Last year, almost 140,000 Virginians said they belong to at least two races.
The census statistics for 2009 are the last ones before the count is completed in the ongoing 2010 Census. In addition to being a preview of the decennial census, the figures could have implications in the midterm elections this fall and beyond.
"Hispanics are a force to be reckoned with, and savvy politicians are going to have to take them into account," said William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.
More than half of the almost 3 million new people in the country last year are Hispanic, according to the census figures. At 47 million, Hispanics form the nation's largest minority group. In contrast, there are 39.6 million African Americans, a number that grew by about 600,000, and 14 million Asians, or 460,000 more than in 2008.
The rise in Hispanics is being driven by high birthrates. More than seven out of 10 of the 1.5 million additional Hispanics last year were born here, while immigration accounted for just 18 percent of the growth, the census shows.
Conversely, the nation's 200 million non-Hispanic whites increased by a meager 360,000 last year, about 12 percent of the total growth. As the baby boomer generation advances into old age, the white population is growing notably older. For whites, the median age is now 41, compared to 27 for Hispanics. In analyzing the data, Frey noted that 42 states show a decline in non-Hispanic whites younger than 45, underscoring how young people increasingly are likely to be minorities.
Overall, the U.S. population grew almost 1 percent last year, to 307 million people. But growth was widely uneven. Growth rates of 1.2 percent in the South and West were triple the 0.4 percent rate in the Northeast and Midwest.
Every jurisdiction in the Washington region grew last year, some at a faster pace than others.
The District's population gained almost 8,000 people in 2009, to just shy of 600,000 residents. That is about 28,000 more residents than the District had at the start of the decade. The median age of 35 1/2 is a year older than in 2000.
The city's biggest change has come in its racial makeup. A decade ago, the city was 60 percent black and 31 percent white. By 2009, African American residents were 54 percent of the population, and whites were almost 41 percent. Last year, the number of whites increased by 6,500, compared with 2,000 more blacks and 2,000 more Hispanics.
The District exemplifies how demographic shifts can drive political change. White residents supported successful council measures on same-sex marriage and the bag tax.
In the upcoming mayoral election, political strategists predict this will be the first citywide election in decades attracting an equal number of black and white voters.
Bernard Demczuk, a George Washington University professor of African American history who follows District politics, said he does not expect the increasing proportion of white voters to dramatically alter the racial makeup of the city's elected offices. He noted that white District residents have long supported black candidates in city races.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and his chief rival for the nomination, Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), are black. But polls show that Fenty runs strongest among white voters, while Gray has broad support in the African American community.
Although Virginia remains majority white (73 percent of its 7.9 million residents), minorities are growing in numbers and proportion. About 570,000 Virginians, or 7 percent, are Latinos. That represents a 70 percent jump from the 330,000 Latinos in the state a decade ago.
As in Virginia, about 7 percent of Maryland's 5.7 million residents are Latino. Last year they were responsible for 53 percent of the increase in the state's population as their numbers increased to 411,000. A decade ago, the state's 228,000 Latinos were less than 5 percent of the population.
Staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report.