Minorities drive population growth in Baltimore suburbs

Data show strong gains in Balto., Howard counties

October 01, 2004|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,SUN STAFF

Racial and ethnic minorities are fueling growth in the region's suburbs, most notably Baltimore and Howard counties, according to U.S. Census estimates released yesterday.

In Baltimore County, as the non-Hispanic white population decreased by 1,285 between 2000 and last year, the number of black residents swelled by 18,175. The county's relatively small Asian and Hispanic communities also added new residents. Combined, the non-white population made up about 28 percent of Baltimore County's residents last year, up from 25 percent in 2000.

Howard County's burgeoning Asian population continued to flourish, growing at nearly the same rate as the non-Hispanic white population between 2000 and last year, data show. Howard gained 6,285 Asian residents while the white population increased by 6,514.

Anne Arundel, Carroll and Harford counties all saw increases in non-white populations, although the numbers were more modest. The city continued its decades-long loss in population - both among whites and African-Americans - although it saw a gain of 560 Hispanics and a leveling in the number of Asians.

Demographers attribute the growth in the number of non-whites in Baltimore County to a migration from the city of people seeking bigger homes and better schools. And Howard County's top-rated school district continues to attract people of every background.

"You started to see this happen over the 1990s," said Mark Goldstein, an economist with the Maryland Department of Planning. "Even if you look statewide, both the areas surrounding Baltimore and Washington have, if not declining white populations, they have increased minorities."

The figures follow a national trend that suburban metropolitan areas from Chicago to Washington are experiencing, said William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer, who has labeled such cities "melting pot metros."

"There are a surprising number of suburban counties where minorities are fueling much of the growth," he said. "It used to be when you saw a place where the white population was making up a smaller share of the overall population it was in the cities. But now it's in the suburbs."

Because metropolitan Baltimore remains mostly black and white, it isn't likely to become an overnight stew of ethnicities, such as Houston or Los Angeles, said Frey. Still, like cities nationwide, Baltimore's blacks are moving in greater numbers to the suburbs and the foreign-born population is choosing to settle outside of the traditional inner city.

"We're a suburban society," he said. "For a lot of minorities, making it in America is the brass ring, the American Dream. It doesn't mean that cities are dead, but at least in the United States, people who live in cities are not in the majority."

Frey said the drop in the white population could be a case of longtime suburbanites eager to move to a farther-removed suburb, with newer or more affordable homes.

"In the outer suburbs you'll also see growth in minorities, but not to the extent of white growth, because there were more whites in the suburbs to begin with," he said.

The demographic shifts are forcing local governments to adapt to the changes.

In Baltimore County, where in 2002 Kenneth N. Oliver became the first African-American elected to the seven-member County Council, there remains a lack of diversity in elected officials.

"I was the first and the only," said Oliver, a Democrat who represents the Randallstown area.

"There needs to be more diversity," he said. "But I do think the county has become more inclusive. Every new appointment seems to have been an African-American or a female on a lot of boards and commissions. I think a change is coming."

Recognizing this, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. appointed a 23-member Ethnic Diversity Council in June to advise him on a range of quality-of-life issues.

"We have Asians, Arabs, African-Americans," he said. "I just wanted to make sure that Baltimore County was a community where everyone is a player and everyone is at the table. ... I think we are enjoying an increase in our population and that's a testament to the quality of life here."

ChanSu Chong, a member of the three-year-old Korean American Association of Howard County, said she thinks many minorities will move to a place that they perceive is welcoming.

"And the schools," she said. "The most important thing for people is the education and if it's safe."

Although she doesn't have children, she knows many Korean-Americans who have moved to Howard County primarily for its well-regarded school district.

Chong, 41, left Seoul in 1989 for New York. She later moved to Baltimore County, then to Ellicott City, to be closer to her job at the Social Security Administration. In the 1990s, she noticed an increase in Korean clients at her job and began working with Korean seniors who don't speak English, helping them navigate the bureaucracy.

In Ellicott City and Columbia she said she noticed three-generation families moving in and the need for expanded services to accommodate the needs of the elderly and school-aged children.

"They come as families," she said. "In our culture, we have to support our children and our parents. Parents work during the day and leave the children with the grandparents."

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