- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2006


America’s growing diversity has reached nearly every state.

From South Carolina’s budding immigrant population to the fast-rising number of Hispanics in Arkansas, minority groups make up an increasing share of the population in every state but one, according to figures released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“This is just an extraordinary explosion of diversity all across the United States,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. “It’s diversity and immigration going hand in hand.”

West Virginia is the exception, with its struggling economy and little history of attracting immigrants.

Mr. Frey said states that attract large numbers of immigrants can consider it a “badge of economic success.” There have, however, been backlashes.

“In some places, it will be awhile before they are accepted by the locals,” Mr. Frey said. “All we have to do is look at this immigration debate.”

Immigration policy is a big issue in this year’s midterm congressional elections, and the new data help explain why. Legal immigrants and illegal aliens make up a growing portion of the population in 46 states and the District. Nationally, they went from 11.1 percent of the population in 2000 to 12.4 percent last year.

The 2005 figures are from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which is replacing the “long form” on the 10-year census. Starting this year, the annual survey of about 3 million households provides yearly data on communities of 65,000 or larger. By 2010, it will provide annual multiyear averages for the smallest neighborhoods covered by the 10-year census.

The survey, which cost $170 million last year, has limitations. For example, only people living in households were surveyed. That excludes the 3 percent of people who live in nursing homes, hospitals, college dormitories, military barracks, prisons and other dwellings known as group quarters.

Also, the numbers for Gulf Coast states do not reflect the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which scattered hundreds of thousands of people last year.

California, New York, Texas and Florida have the nation’s largest immigrant populations. The new data show that immigrants will travel beyond those states if there are jobs available.

South Carolina’s immigrant population grew by 47 percent since 2000, more than any other state. The Hispanic population in Arkansas grew by 48 percent, the most of any state.

Michael MacFarlane, South Carolina’s state demographer, said Hispanics and other immigrants were attracted by a healthy economy that offered jobs requiring few skills.

“They are in all sorts of construction, food processing, service jobs, the whole spectrum, where they used to be primarily in agriculture,” Mr. MacFarlane said.

West Virginia, meanwhile, was one of only two states in which the percentage of white people grew. The other was Hawaii, where whites are an increasing minority.

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