Posted on September 7, 2012

Washington Region’s Diversity Exemplifies National Trend

OregonLive, September 7, 2012

The Lorton where Chrisdiona Clarke grew up in the 1970s and 1980s bears almost no resemblance to the Lorton where she lives today.

The Fairfax County community, just off Interstate 95, was rural then and — except for the population of a nearby penitentiary — largely white. Clarke remembers awakening to the sound of sirens signaling a prison break. She and her brother, the children of a white mother and a black father, were the only African Americans in their classes at school.

Today, the fields around the prison, which closed in 2001, are filled with upscale houses and apartment buildings. {snip}

Non-whites no longer stick out in a crowd. Lorton is one of the most diverse places in the entire country, according to a new study of census data by two sociologists from Pennsylvania State University. The 19,000 residents are roughly a third white and a third black, and there are significant numbers of Asians, Hispanics and multiracial residents.


What’s happened in Lorton is typical of a demographic sea change that is transforming the Washington area and much of the country. Non-Hispanic whites are a minority in a growing number of metropolitan areas, including Washington. Predominantly white neighborhoods are a relic of the past. New developments that appeal to young families are among the most diverse, drawing Hispanics and Asians who, on average, are much younger than the whites.

Although metropolitan areas are the most diverse, small towns and the countryside are also attracting more minorities. The Penn State researchers found that whites are the predominant group in barely one-third of all places of 1,000 residents or more, compared with two-thirds in 1980.

“Racial and ethnic diversity is no longer a vicarious experience for Americans,” said Barrett A. Lee, one of the study’s authors. “It used to be something that was recognized and debated at the national level. But now even residents of small towns and rural areas are coming face to face with people of different races or ethnicity in their daily lives, not just on the evening news.”

The Washington area stands out for its broad demographic mix. The Penn State researchers ranked the top 25 most-diverse metropolitan areas, and only three metro areas — all in California — had greater diversity than Washington.


One reason behind Washington’s diversity is that it is what the Penn State study called a “company town,” this one where the government and the military have a large presence.