Minorities drive Md. population growth

They constitute 51 percent of kids under 5, census data show

May 17, 2007|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

Minorities constituted more than half of Maryland's preschool population in 2006, according to a state analysis of U.S. census data that show minorities have fueled virtually all of the state's population growth this decade.

The data - released today by the U.S. Census Bureau - indicate that Maryland's population is increasing because of immigrants and minority families arriving from other states, as the white population declines slightly.

An analysis of the data by the Maryland Department of Planning shows that the diversity is most apparent among young people, with minorities constituting 51 percent of children under age 5.

Maryland's figures follow national trends in which one in three U.S. residents is a minority and nearly half of all children under 5 are minorities.

The statistics quantify what educators have witnessed for years and underscore how critical it is for parents, teachers and policymakers to figure out how to meet the needs of the rapidly diversifying population.

Young-chan Han, a specialist with the Howard County school system's International Student and Family Outreach Office, has organized workshops to help the area's immigrant families navigate new school surroundings.

Working with a student population that is 43 percent minority, and facing a growing demand for translation services in such languages as Vietnamese, Korean and Urdu, Han meets with community leaders to devise ways to engage immigrant families. This weekend, she is to host a workshop for the area's small but growing Haitian community.

"From just five to 10 years ago, the student population has changed drastically," she said. "Many of our students are in [English as a second language] programs for a number of years, but even though they exit, their parents don't exit the need for language support. We need to be there for them."

Han, who is Korean-American, often mentions her Columbia cul-de-sac as an example of the area's ethnic stew.

"My next-door neighbors are Chinese and American, my other neighbors are Ethiopian, and down the street, two families from India," she said. "And one white American. It's a very diverse neighborhood."

If projections are correct, it will become more eclectic. The state's combined black, Asian, Hispanic and other minority populations have outpaced white growth for decades. Census figures show that as the state's white population declined slightly between 2000 and 2006, other groups increased.

The census projects that the United States will become "majority minority" by 2050, but some researchers expect that day to come much sooner.

"It's not going to be next year that you will see a majority-minority state, but it is certainly heading in that direction," said Mark Goldstein, an economist with the Maryland Department of Planning.

Rising immigration, minority migration from other states and whites leaving Maryland all contribute to the demographic shift, said Goldstein. While the overall population grew between 2003 and 2006, more people moved out of Maryland than moved in. Over the same period, the white population declined.

It's hard to pinpoint why, but Goldstein said he thinks those leaving Maryland are turned off by rising home prices and are seeking more house for their money in neighboring states.

Meanwhile, Washington residents have been moving to Maryland, and historically this group has consisted of immigrants and minorities, he said.

On average, Asians, blacks and Hispanics in the population tend to be younger than whites, and immigrant families tend to be of child-bearing age, all contributing to a more diverse younger population, said Mark Mather, a demographer with the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau in Washington.

In examining the census figures, Mather found that while 45 percent of the under-5 population are minorities, 80 percent of the over-60 population are white.

"It's just a huge contrast," he said. "We're calling it a new generation gap, because the young people in this country look so different from those of their grandparents' generation."

Mather said he thinks the gap poses potential communication problems between the generations.

"Some people have found that social programs could suffer because a homogenous population over 55 may not want to devote resources to a younger population that is racially and ethnically fragmented," he said.

Other say the growing diversity of the student population might exacerbate the achievement gap between whites and some minority groups.

In Baltimore County, for example, a school system that was once predominantly black and white is growing more diverse, adding to the challenges, said Barbara Dezmon, an assistant to the superintendent for equity and assurance.

This school year, Baltimore County's school population is 49 percent minority, while in 1999-2000 the figure was 36 percent, said Dezmon. The system's white population has been declining since 1995.

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