State’s Face Is Changing—Fast

Esmeralda Bermudez, Oregonian, August 9, 2007

Virtually every newcomer to Multnomah County since 2000 has been Latino, radically changing the growth pattern of the state’s urban core, new U.S. Census figures show.

While the slow-growing county remains largely white, 94 percent of new growth in the past seven years has been Hispanic. That means that 18,600 of Multnomah County’s 19,800 new residents were Latino.

Data also show that a trend of losses in the white population since 2000 appeared to begin reversing itself in 2006. That could be from a boost in jobs and the migration of young professionals, but experts say it is too soon to tell whether that shift spells a long-term change in course.

In Washington County, the Latino community continues to see just as much growth as it has in recent years, with the non-Latino white population gaining just as much ground. And in Marion County, Latinos now make up 21 percent of the area’s total population.

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While the Hispanic population still makes up 10 percent of Multnomah County’s 661,584 residents, the new presence of Latinos has been felt, said Nathan Teske, family services program manager for El Programa Hispano, a leading Latino outreach organization with offices in Portland and Gresham.

Since 2000, the program’s funding and staff have doubled to about $2 million and more than 30 employees. Today, the agency serves an estimated 12,500 Latinos across the county.

“We’ve seen the growth, and we’ve experienced it,” said Teske, adding that El Programa’s crisis hot line and tax preparation program face the most demand from Latino clients. “As a culture-specific provider, we still have programs turning some people away because some are stretched to the max.”

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Others aren’t as content with being part of the county.

Jovina Rosario moved to Gresham’s Rockwood neighborhood six months ago from Beaverton. The single mother of two is out of work, and her neighborhood is heavy with crime and gangs.

On the west side, she worked odd jobs at Pizza Hut and Subway, but she no longer could afford to pay rent.

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As seen for years, the growth of Latinos continues to overshadow that of other groups because of high birth rates, said George Hough, director of Portland State University’s Population Research Center.

“It’s Latinos ages 0 to 17 where we really see change,” Hough said. “That dramatic change is what will say what our futures are going to look like.”

Moving west

Across the Portland area, the growth of many counties is being shaped by Latinos. To the west, the bulk of Hispanics continues to gravitate toward Washington County.

There, Latino growth has remained steady at about 36 percent or 24,000 new residents since 2000. Non-Latino whites are growing at a similar pace. Asians also have diversified the area, adding 12,700 residents since 2000.

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Among those most affected by the Latino boom is Marion County with a population of 374,230. One out of every five residents in the area is Latino.

In Woodburn’s downtown, along four blocks that surround the city’s center, a public square with a fountain known as “La Plaza” sets the stage for some of the most visible changes in Marion County.

Latino-owned businesses that have revitalized a once-vacant downtown anchor every corner, their colorful hand-painted facades speaking to the dramatic transformation of this city of 23,000 in the past two decades as the city’s Hispanic population has ballooned to more than 50 percent.

Now included in the minority pool of non-Latino whites is Tammy Alloway. Over the years, those around her have looked less and less like her.

“There are no white people here,” says the 48-year-old as she exits one of downtown Woodburn’s four Mexican bakeries with a bag of baked goods. “Not a single one.”

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