Howard County has many layers in population

Socioeconomic makeup is varied, including contrast in backgrounds, diverse communities


The socioeconomic makeup of Howard County is a puzzle with many pieces that fit together to create one of the most intriguing and ever-changing of Maryland's 23 varied counties.

Howard is "a county of contrasts," according to its county government's homepage, but that concise description only begins to tell the story of this many-layered county.

The county is a conglomeration; it has 18th-century towns, cutting-edge communities, many acres of rolling farmlands and seemingly endless suburbs.

When looking at the types of people who make this county what it is, it's important to not only look at the county as a sum of its parts, but also to examine important areas as they compare with one another.

As of the 2000 U.S. Census, the county was 14.4 percent black, while the state was 27.9 percent black. Maryland had almost double the black population percentage of Howard County.

This number can be examined in more depth by looking at the population of Columbia, Howard's economic, social and metropolitan hub, as it compares with that of the rest of the county.

Columbia, whose groundbreaking ceremonies took place in 1966, had a population of 88,391 as of the 2000 census, and 21.5 percent, or 19,002 of its people were black.

Columbia's population was, as of the 2000 census, 7.1 percent Asian, as opposed to the county's 7.7 percent, and 4.1 percent Hispanic or Latino, compared with the county's 3 percent. The state was 4 percent Asian and 4.3 percent Hispanic or Latino.

These data would seem to suggest that Howard County's urban areas and towns have diverse populations approaching that of the whole state.

However, the state's older communities have less diversity and larger white populations.

For example, Ellicott City, founded in 1772, with its population of 56,397 people was 7.3 percent African-American, having 4,138 black residents, as of the census. More than 77 percent of Ellicott City's population was white.

The census shows that Howard's black population, and to a lesser degree populations of other minorities, is dispersed, at least in part, based on age and traditions of individual settlements, not centered in its urban areas as has often been the case throughout American history.

However, this diversity disparity did not occur entirely by chance.

Columbia was formed, and has been governed, with diversity in mind.

"From its inception, its founders wanted to ensure that Columbia would be a community of diversity," the community's official Web site says.

Overall, the percentage of residents of Howard County born in other countries is not much higher than that of the rest of the state.

Howard's foreign-born population was 11.3 percent, according to the census. The state's is 9.8 percent.

Columbia's immigrant population came in slightly higher at 13.2 percent. This is most probably a factor of the newness of the population there, judging by the fact that 80 percent of Columbia's foreign-born population moved there in 1975.

Ellicott City's 13.3 percent population of immigrants barely beat Columbia's. These data on foreign-born populations, when compared with the diversity percentages, suggest that in recent years the county has been opening up to nonwhite populations.

Increases in immigration can occur much more quickly than changes in the racial profile of a community, and as such, foreign-born populations have reached high levels throughout the county's communities, while some mostly white bastions remain.

Howard County is also a place of the young to middle-aged, a function of its large number of commuters and suburban families with children.

Only 7.5 percent of Howard residents were older than 65 as of the 2000 census, compared with the statewide average of 11.3 percent. Also, 28.1 percent of Howard County's residents were younger than 18, as opposed to the state rate of 25.6 percent, and 7.4 percent were younger than 5, with the state's number at 6.7 percent.

These numbers begin to show a somewhat contradictory trend, however. A greater gap exists between senior-citizen numbers, indicating that there is a younger adult crowd living in Howard County than in the rest of the state.

However, when looking at youth populations, the county comes much closer to the state's numbers.

The census data indicated that Howard County is experiencing slower growth than in recent decades, and that more residents of the county are in the 18-to-65-year-old range, as most of its huge influx of population during the 1970s and 1980s settled down and had children years ago, offspring who are now in their 20s and 30s.

"Now that Columbia's done, we're still growing," said Jeff Bronow, chief of research division of the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning, "but only by about 4,000 people per year, which is slower than in the '80s, for example, when about 8,000 people were moving in per year."

The numbers are backed up by further analysis, though there also remains a large population of 40-to-59-year-olds. Close to 23.4 percent of county residents were between the ages of 22 and 39 as of the census, and 30.1 percent were between the ages of 40 and 59.

One more set of census data that offers a glimpse into the population of Howard County is its economic profile.

Maryland's median household income of $52,868 was $10,000 higher than the national number, $41,994, in 1999, according to the census.

Howard County's median household income topped those of all the other counties in the state, coming in at $74,167. Montgomery County, which has a reputation of prosperity, came closest to matching Howard, with $71,551.

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