WASHINGTON — A colorful but complex demographic portrait of America emerged Thursday from the first official release of Census 2000 data as hundreds of thousands of people took advantage of the opportunity to identify themselves as members of more than one race.
The data, made available first to New Jersey, Mississippi, Virginia and Wisconsin, also confirmed forecasts of explosive growth in the Asian and Hispanic population, especially in the biggest and fastest-growing counties.
“We’re on our way to becoming a country literally made up of every other nation in the world,” said social scientist Kenneth Prewitt, former head of the Census Bureau.
The figures documented trends long predicted, depicting an increasingly diverse society as the new century dawned. Among the revelations:
• New Jersey saw its Asian population soar at least 77 percent over the last 10 years, from 270,839 in 1990 to at least 480,276 in 2000.
• The Hispanic population soared by 14 percent in Virginia, to nearly 7.1 million. But that was dwarfed by the Hispanic growth rate in Loudon County, Va., in the outer suburbs of the nation’s capital. The number of Hispanics there skyrocketed by 368 percent over the decade, to 10,089.
• In Wisconsin, Milwaukee County recorded a slight 2 percent decrease in population from the 1990 headcount, 940,164. But it’s Hispanic population shot up by 84 percent, to 82,406.
• The black population in Mississippi, in the Deep South, increased at least 13 percent, to just over 1 million.
Direct comparisons of figures for 1990 and 2000 were impossible, however, because people previously could choose from only five racial categories compared to 63 in the latest census.
State lawmakers will use the long-awaited data to reshape congressional, state, and local legislative district boundaries. The figures also will be used to redistribute over $185 billion a year in federal money among states and communities.
Because of changes in federal guidelines for collecting statistics on race and ethnicity, Census 2000 was the first which allowed people to “mark one or more races.”
The release of the figures to the four states Thursday was the first in a series of reports for the various states that the Census Bureau will make public throughout March.
Figures for seven other states – Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Vermont – also were to be sent this week.
The numbers are made available to the public by the Census Bureau only after officials in the states notify federal officials that they have received them.
The first set of figures were answers Americans gave to questions about their racial and ethnic makeup. Among other things, the Census Bureau also asked: “Where do you live?”, “How much money do make?”, and “Do you own or rent?”
Information based on the answers supplied to these more detailed demographic questions will pour out from the government over the next several years.
“America isn’t just described as black and white. It should be described in many hues, many colors, many ethnicities,” said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau.
But, Shelton also said the new descriptions bring “new challenges to ensure that people are treated equally and fairly, and not discriminated against in our society.”
Respondents in 1990 could only select from one of five categories: “white”, “black”, “American Indian, Eskimo or Aleutian”, “Asian or Pacific Islander”, and “some other race.”
The 2000 census gave people the option of choosing from one of 63 race options, including “white”, “black or African American”, “American Indian and Alaska Native”, “Asian”, “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander”, and “some other race.”
As a result, there are no direct comparisons for race data between 1990 and 2000.
In New Jersey, for instance, 480,276 people classified themselves as Asian only, but another 44,080 people identified themselves as Asian and some other race.
A separate question asked people to identify themselves as either “Hispanic” or “non-Hispanic.” “Hispanic” is considered an ethnicity, not a race; people of Hispanic origin can be of any race.
The new classifications documenting the broader swath of racial characteristics could instigate changes in social policy and be the focus of civil rights lawsuits, said University of Michigan demographer William Frey.
“There is a potential of a real blurring of the lines in racial identity,” Frey said. These “numbers coming out are just the tip of the iceberg.”
On the Net: http://www.census.gov