Posted on August 31, 2004

Influx Of Hispanics, Asians Marks Metro Area’s Growth

Jeffry Scott, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Aug. 26

Metro Atlanta’s population boom keeps booming along — adding about 320 people a day since 2000 — with the fastest growth among Hispanics and Asians.

The 20-county metro area’s population increased by 9 percent between 2000 and 2003 and now is about 4.4 million, according to estimates released Thursday by the Census Bureau.

During the same period, the number of Hispanics jumped 30 percent, and the number of Asians climbed 23 percent, most of that in the outer counties. While the growth rate is accelerating, the total number of Hispanics and Asians remains relatively small — Hispanics number 347,768 and Asians total 164,939 in metro Atlanta.

Where Hispanic and Asian populations soared, white population growth lagged behind the overall rate — just a 7 percent increase since 2000 — as the region has become more ethnically diverse.

The percentage of whites in the overall metro population has decreased from 60 percent to 58 percent in the last three years. Black population growth, at 11 percent, barely outpaces the overall rate. Blacks make up 29 percent of the total metro Atlanta population.

The numbers are estimates from the census’ 2003 American Community Survey, which issues data from 116 metro areas, 233 counties and 68 cities with a population of 250,000 or more.

Because only five counties in the metro area and the city of Atlanta meet that criterion, the Census Bureau did not provide details for 15 of the 20 metro Atlanta counties or any other counties in Georgia.

Jobs, housing and a sense of community are spurring the ethnic boom, said Doug Bachtel, a demographer at the University of Georgia.

“They [Hispanics and Asians] come here because other similar folks come here, and they’ve either called or written, and said, ‘Come here, this place is great,’ “ he said.

Within the five core counties, Hispanic and Asian populations are growing the fastest in Cobb and Gwinnett. Cobb’s Hispanic population has grown 22 percent and its Asian population 20 percent over the last three years. Gwinnett experienced a 31 percent increase in Hispanic population and a 26 percent jump in Asians.

Juan Alvarez, a 20-year-old bricklayer, was one of the new additions to Gwinnett. After failing to pass a college entrance exam in the Mexican state of Michoacan, Alvarez moved to Norcross last year.

“If you aren’t trained as a professional, there aren’t many jobs there,” Alvarez said as he prepared Thursday to run a red brick through a buzz saw at a townhome development in the Norcross area.

Ethnic communities are still most visible in the scores of Asian and Hispanic businesses along Buford Highway in DeKalb County, where Yong Lee was manning his shop, Chinese Herbal Center, on Thursday.

Lee, who came to Atlanta as a graduate student of bioengineering 11 years ago, works close to town. Like so many other Atlantans, he lives in the suburbs, in Alpharetta.

He said he considers Atlanta his home, thought his heart is still in the Sichuan province of China. When he retires, he said, he wants to travel back and forth frequently: “My root and culture is there.”

Metro Atlanta’s soaring Hispanic population — now almost 350,000, nearly double the population of Columbus — may be even larger than the census numbers indicate, said demographer Bachtel.

“Nobody is certain how many Hispanics there are here because some of them are here illegally,” Bachtel said. “There are various guesstimates. It could be one-and-a-half or two times the official number.”

Judy Hadley, a statistical research analyst for the Georgia Office of Planning and Budget, said another reason Hispanics lead the metro area’s population boom is that as a community, Hispanics have the highest birth rate, according to the National Center For Health Statistics.

The numbers also track the shifting demographic mix of counties, where the most dramatic shift has been in Clayton County. Since 2000, the county’s white population has decreased by about 40 percent, while the black population has increased by 12 percent. And Hispanics have left Clayton County at a rate of 7 percent over the last three years.

The estimates — intended to reveal short-term trends between the more thorough Census reports every 10 years — don’t include group housing units such as prisons, nursing homes and dormitories.