The 2010 U.S. census marked dramatic demographic shifts in the Washington metropolitan area. In the last decade, Montgomery County’s population grew by 100,000 to nearly 972,000, making it the second largest jurisdiction in the area. The census was also a landmark for the county’s diversity; for the first time, numbers showed Montgomery as being a minority-majority district.
"The Washington metro area is highly attractive to professional workers, and high-skilled immigration has increased in the area since the 1990s," said Professor Karen Woodrow, a researcher at the University of Maryland's Population Research Center. "Many of these individuals have extensive histories of living in the U.S. and obtaining educational degrees … but certainly several factors account for residential choice within metropolitan areas … availability of transportation, presence of family and social networks, schools, family circumstances … and various sources of assistance are all part of decisions."
Given recent population trends, Montgomery's shift to a minority-majority district isn't surprising. What's interesting is the speed that change is occurring. In the 1990 U.S. census, non-Hispanic whites accounted for 72 percent of the county's population. In 2000, this number fell to roughly 60 percent. By 2010, non-Hispanic whites accounted for 49 percent of the county's population, and minorities became the majority.
A closer look at numbers
Growth across the county has been uneven, with some areas such as Germantown showing dramatic population shifts, and others showing only slight change.
On average, the Hispanic population grew fastest, more than doubling in the last decade. Hispanics are now the county’s second largest group. Asian and Pacific Islanders were the next fastest growing, with a population increase of just over a third. The county's black population increased by almost a quarter. Unsurprisingly, non-Hispanic whites were the only growth anomaly, with a roughly 8 percent decline in population.
Neighboring counties showed similar trends. Howard and Prince George's counties, and Fairfax County, Va., all registered growing minority populations. The only two counties in the area that lost minority residents were D.C. and Arlington County.
Future plans for a more diverse county
"If anything, the most recent census confirms our planning approach," said Valerie Berton of the Montgomery County Planning Department, commenting on how the department is adjusting future plans to support residents. "We have a growing population with mixed income levels, so we're dealing with different needs and finding ways to meet those needs."
Given the movement happening within the region, it’s likely that Montgomery County residents can expect many changes in the coming years—from classes offered by local schools, to alternative housing and development plans.
What are the important issues to track and what changes can Montgomery County residents expect? Join us this week as we take a closer look at the county’s shifting demographics and examine what the future of a more diverse county means.