Word out of the U.S. Census Bureau today was that "metropolitan areas"—read, cities and their suburbs—are growing much faster than rural America. Which puts D.C. right in line with one national trend. But the nation's white population barely grew—which makes the District an outlier.
Census officials say 83.7 of the population now lives in metropolitan areas, and that more than 90 percent of the national population growth between the 2000 Census and last year's occurred in cities and their surrounding suburbs. Also growing rapidly: Counties on the fringe of metropolitan areas (like Loudon County or Prince William County here, for instance).
The District's population, counted at 601,723, grew for the first time since 1950, reflecting the surge in metropolitan areas. But here in D.C., that change mostly manifested itself as a flood of white people.
D.C.'s non-Hispanic white population grew by 31.6 percent, while the non-Hispanic African American population dropped 11.5 percent. The city is now 34.8 percent non-Hispanic white and 50 percent non-Hispanic African American; 10 years ago, D.C. was 27.8 percent non-Hispanic white and 59.4 percent non-Hispanic black. The population of those of Hispanic or Latino origin increased by 21.8 percent; the District is now 9.1 percent Hispanic or Latino, up from 7.9 percent in 2000. (The city's relatively small Asian population also grew, up 38.4 percent to make up 3.5 percent of the population.) Because the Census counts Hispanic as an ethnicity, not a race, those figures sound a little clunky.
That's a shocking change in a city that once inspired Parliament to name an album (and song) Chocolate City. Anecdotally, evidence of the whitening of the District has been around for years; it's become a barely veiled topic in the city's politics, and the new data isn't likely to damp discussion of race in D.C.
There is some reason to believe what's happening is that white residents, who used to predominate in suburbs, and black residents, who used to dominate urban populations, are switching places. As USA Today noted recently, "The black population is declining in a growing number of major cities—more evidence that the settlement pattern of African Americans is changing as they disperse to suburbia and warmer parts of the nation." Though it's not clear precisely where the District's African Americans are headed, nearby Prince George's County saw growth in the 15-25 percent range, and the number of whites in the state of Maryland decreased by 0.9 percent.
Take a look at the Census Bureau's data here: