A recent survey of Montgomery County households offers a vivid portrait of social change in Maryland's largest jurisdiction, where more than one in five residents has moved in since 1992.

These newcomers are younger and less well paid than people already living in the county. They also are more likely to hold a college or graduate degree and to be minorities or immigrants, according to the 1997 survey of 15,000 households by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

The survey results were released Saturday at a commission-sponsored population forum that also included presentations on national demographic trends--including the growth of the elderly and immigrant populations--that will affect the county.

The civic activists and public officials who attended said the data raise a variety of issues. How can the county government work force become as diverse as the population it serves? Should the county provide more sidewalks and longer "walk" signals at traffic lights to help aged residents who can no longer drive? What about better transit to help low-income people get to jobs? And how can volunteer groups attract members in an era when so many adults are working that no one has free time any more?

Montgomery County now is home to 846,000 people--and is headed for a million by 2020, according to county predictions. The county is not growing as fast as it did in the 1980s, entering what planners call its "mature" stage, but its population is increasing at a faster clip than the state's.

The number of births, although less than in 1990, is still high, county planners say. That means, according to Drew Dedrick, the county research director, that there won't be a rerun of the baby bust that caused communities to close schools a decade ago.

Montgomery also is attractive to new residents, drawing one in four of the people who move to Maryland each year.

The newcomers arrive in a county that has among the region's highest incomes and education levels. Six in 10 adults have at least a bachelor's degree, and half of all households have incomes of $65,840 or more, the survey found. All the money and education means the county is well-wired; more than two-thirds of households own home computers.

The county also has high ethnic and racial diversity. Montgomery has the region's largest Latino population and the second-largest Asian population, after Fairfax County. One in three residents is a minority.

Most new residents of Montgomery County move from outside the region, including foreign countries. Among the newcomers, one in three heads of households were born abroad, the survey said. Nearly half the immigrants who come to Maryland settle in Montgomery County.

The county survey found that 34 percent of foreign-born residents are professionals, the largest job category, as is true of native-born residents. More immigrants hold services jobs and fewer hold managerial jobs than native-born residents, but about the same proportion are in sales, clerical, technical and other job categories.

Demographer William H. Frey, of the State University of New York at Albany, told the population forum that most national population growth will come from immigrants and their children over the next two decades. Local demographers predict much the same for Montgomery County.

"What motivates them to move into our county is the quality of our public schools," said Jorge Ribas, president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation. Montgomery County's growing racial and ethnic diversity has brought some tension between old and new residents. The Allied Civic Association, for example, had to ease out some longtime officials who had "inappropriate attitudes toward matters of diversity," said John M. Robinson, the group's first vice president.

But Montgomery County's reputation for tolerance seems intact. "We don't have the problems here that a lot of other areas do," said local demographer George Grier, a county resident.

Most newcomers to the county begin as renters, the survey said. More than 40 percent move to four areas of the county--Gaithersburg, Bethesda/Chevy Chase, Germantown and Kensington/Wheaton.

Longer-established residents who move within the county, the survey said, tend to move to more outlying areas and usually buy homes. Eventually, planners predict, the newcomers will, too, as their incomes rise with age.

As is true nationally, the county's older population is growing. People over 65 are predicted to make up 15 percent of the population in a decade. The vast majority of people in their sixties and seventies intend to stay in Montgomery County, the survey found.

Frey said the "yuppie elderly"--65- to 74-year-olds who are still healthy--are seen as an asset by many communities.

Nationally, he said, "they're the kinds of people who are really attractive to communities, to resorts, to places that want to improve their economic position. A lot of people are going to be targeting housing, products, communities to these folks because they have lots of money to spend."

They also will be an active volunteer corps, Dedrick predicted: "Some of those '60s radicals are going to be senior radicals."

Grier said his own surveys show that Montgomery County residents have a strong loyalty to their county. Of those who say they plan to move in the next several years, nearly four out of five plan to stay in Montgomery, he said.

Still, Dedrick said, Montgomery clearly is a "gateway" community for many, a starting place for people who later move to Frederick County or other less developed communities.

The survey also offered a variety of information about where county residents work. It found that 58 percent of working residents have jobs in Montgomery County, 24 percent in the District, 8 percent in Northern Virginia and 9 percent elsewhere. Fourteen percent say they work at least one day a week at home, a rising number.

Both Dedrick and Grier expressed concern about predictions that the county's working-age population will fall short of the job supply in coming years. Because so many people already are working, including most women, that means the county either must import workers from farther away or lose jobs.

The issue troubles economists and public officials throughout the Washington area.

"We're not the only jurisdiction in this position," Dedrick said. "It's quite common."

Information from the 1997 Census Update Survey is available on the Internet at the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission site: www.clark.net/pub/mncppc/montgom/factmap/databook/glance/glance


By the Numbers

A recent survey of Montgomery County households sheds light on the new residents who moved to Maryland's largest county between 1992 and 1997. These newcomers make up 21 percent of the county's population.

People who moved to Montgomery County came from:

Outside the Metro area--56 percent (98,000 people)

Metro area--44 percent (77,000 people)

Newcomers are more likely to be minorities and foreign-born than current county residents:

Newcomer heads of households who are minorities: 39 percent

Current heads of households who are minorities: 26 percent

Newcomer heads of households born abroad: 33 percent

Current heads of households born abroad: 26 percent

New residents are younger and less well paid than current county residents but are better educated, which planners say gives them greater earning potential:

Newcomer adults with graduate degrees: 39 percent

Current adult residents with graduate degrees: 31 percent

SOURCE: Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission