Minorities become majority as population booms in Prince William

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 8:58 PM

Prince William resident Jan Cunard said when she moved to the county more than 20 years ago, the front page story in the local paper made her feel like she had never left her rural Minnesota community.

But now, she said, the suburban bedroom community she was attracted to in the late '80s has been transformed as the population exploded and Prince William became one of the fastest growing counties in the commonwealth.

"I still remember when we moved in that summer, on the front page of the paper was who won first place for their raspberry jam at the county fair," she said. "Now what you read about is what new companies are being brought into Prince William. We have changed so much from a rural to a suburban community."

Prince William's population grew 40 percent in the past decade, topping 400,000 last year, according to data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau. The demographics have also changed as the Hispanic and Asian populations almost tripled in the past decade, and the number of black residents doubled, making the county a majority-minority jurisdiction, according to the data.

"I came to Prince William in 1969 and was the ninth resident of Lake Ridge," Prince William Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries) said. "We only had dirt roads. . . . You can see how much has changed. We have a lot to offer now in Prince William, so [the numbers] don't surprise me."

Caddigan said people are attracted to the community because of the good schools, affordable homes and numerous amenities.

According to the data, almost a third of Prince William residents are younger than 18, crowding schools in the county's fast-growing western end. English is the second language of many newcomers.

In the mid-1990s, about 2 percent of students in Prince William schools were enrolled having "limited English proficiency." By 2010, about 17 percent of students fit that category, according to data from school officials.

"We have become a mini melting pot," said Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville). "If you go into schools in the Linton Hall area, in some elementary schools there are 60 different languages being spoken."

Non-Hispanic whites make up slightly less than half of the county's population, according to the data. In 2000, they accounted for 65 percent of residents.

By contrast, the percentage of Hispanics soared over the past decade. They account for about 20 percent of the population, compared with about 10 percent in 2000.

Their numbers might have been different if the Prince William Board of County Supervisors hadn't begun requiring police officers to check the immigration status of anyone arrested. The controversial policy prompted thousands of Hispanics to move out of the county between 2007 and 2009, according to recent studies by the University of Virginia and the Migration Policy Institute.

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