Diversity Blooms in Outer Suburbs

Nick Miroff, Washington Post, Nov. 3, 2008

Prince William County has become the most ethnically and racially diverse county in Northern Virginia as a profound demographic shift in the region is reversing half a century of white-flight suburbanization, according to a report by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission.

Much of the realignment is a result of tremendous population growth in the outer suburbs, the report shows, drawing on recent estimates from the Census Bureau‘s American Community Survey. Of the 270,000 people who moved to Northern Virginia between 2000 and 2007, 75 percent settled in Loudoun County, Prince William County, Manassas or Manassas Park.

In Prince William, the growth was driven almost entirely by minorities, who accounted for 94 percent of the population increase.

In contrast, the inner suburbs of Arlington County and Alexandria, once considered gateway communities for immigrants, have lost minority residents since 2000, becoming more white and more affluent.

The report illustrates trends that have been observed in school data and anecdotally but that when distilled into simple charts and tables reflect a demographic makeover that might upend widespread perceptions about the region and its communities.

The changes have been especially dramatic in Prince William. Since 1990, the county’s minority population has risen from 19.3 percent of the total population to 47.9 percent, and the jurisdiction is on pace to soon become Northern Virginia’s first minority-majority county. Only Manassas Park has a higher minority population—50 percent—among Northern Virginia jurisdictions. Manassas is third at 46.3 percent.

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Overall, Northern Virginia is 40.4 percent minority, up from 23.2 percent in 1990; the nation as a whole is 33.9 percent minority. The region’s African American and Hispanic populations account for slightly less than their national percentages, but the region’s Asian population is 12.1 percent, nearly three times the national figure of 4.4 percent.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), who commissioned the regional report, described the changes it outlines as stunning.

“Thirty years ago, Northern Virginia was just a totally different place,” said Connolly, the commission’s chairman, who would represent part of Prince William if he won the 11th Congressional District seat in tomorrow’s election. “The numbers tell us a lot about our own communities, and the implications are profound in terms of the provision of services.”

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