Minorities fuel Md. growth

Blacks, Hispanics, Asians make up at least 40% of state's population

`Foothold in American Dream'

Affordable home prices drive influx to suburbs

August 11, 2005|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,SUN STAFF

More than four in 10 Marylanders are minorities, as Latinos, Asians and blacks flock to the Baltimore and Washington suburbs, accounting for much of the state's overall growth in population in recent years.

Maryland is one of nine states nationwide in which minorities make up at least 40 percent of the population, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released today. Demographers believe the increasing diversity in the suburbs may have a simple explanation: pursuit of the classic American success story.

"Minorities are moving to the suburbs for the same reason everyone's moving to the suburbs; you have single-family homes, better school districts and the crime is typically lower," said William Frey, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "Minorities are just like anyone else, they want a foothold in the American Dream."

Shaheena Naeem, 41, of Columbia said she couldn't endure the frenetic pace of New York, like so many of her friends who emigrated there from Pakistan.

"I hate crowds," she said. "I didn't want to deal with crime. And the houses in the city are smaller and too close together."

Her family's road to the United States began in their native Pakistan, ran through Saudi Arabia, where Naeem's husband was offered a job at an engineering company; then to Maryland - first Silver Spring and finally Columbia five years ago.

Families such as Naeem's are driving growth in Howard County. From 2000 to 2004, the county's Asian population increased by 8,137, or 42 percent, data show.

For Naeem, the Baltimore suburbs have everything she hoped for: good schools for her five children and economic opportunity for her and her husband. The couple own two businesses in Woodlawn - a boutique and an Asian grocery.

"I like the quiet neighborhoods," she said.

Tranquility, or the perception of it, often prompts a move to the suburbs, but affordable home prices can make the desire a reality.

Dunbar Brooks, a demographer at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, said relative housing affordability has helped drive the influx to the suburbs.

"I call it the combined Baltimore-Washington effect," he said. "Washington is an employment magnet, but we have cheaper housing than the Washington area, so our suburbs are viewed as an affordable place to live."

In addition, families have chosen Baltimore's suburbs over the city in recent decades because of crime and troubled schools, he said. And while the recent construction boom may be transforming Baltimore's image and attracting new residents, the city's new home-buyers tend not to be the typical minority family, Brooks said.

"If you look at the new housing in the city- look at the price," he said. "It's high end; it's condos. You tend to draw small families, empty nesters. A condo for $500,000, you're not going to see little kiddies running around there. It's not the average family housing."

The immigration, coupled with an exodus of African-Americans from central cities, has spurred suburban growth.

In 1990, minorities - which include all people except non-Hispanic whites - made up 31 percent of Maryland's population, according to census data. The recent growth has put Maryland on par with four other states nationwide with minority populations of about 40 percent - Mississippi, Georgia, New York and Arizona.

The statistics being released today also show that Texas has joined Hawaii, California and New Mexico as "majority-minority," states where whites no longer are the dominant group.

The Washington suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George's counties continue to be magnets for minorities and immigrants, but the census figures show that the Baltimore region is also diversifying.

While overall population growth in the Baltimore suburbs slowed from 2003 to 2004, compared with recent prior years, minorities outpaced the overall population growth in much of the Baltimore region.

In Howard County, for example, the white population fell by 1,243, but the Asian population grew by 2,067.

In Baltimore County, while the white population continued a trend of decline, the black population rose to 182,831, an increase of 29,608 - or 19 percent - since 2000.

In Baltimore City, the only major groups to gain in numbers were Hispanics and Asians. About 11,216 Asian residents call the city home, along with 13,574 Hispanics.

Anne Arundel County showed continued Hispanic and black growth, with the Latino population rising from 12,902 in 2000 to 16,767 in 2004 - a 30 percent increase.

Harford and Carroll counties, meanwhile, remained predominantly non-Hispanic white, but showed modest gains among minority populations.

While minority gains around the region are notable, some groups insist their numbers are larger than what the Census Bureau reported.

For years, Latino advocates in Baltimore have estimated that the city's Hispanic population is probably more than twice the census estimates.

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