Mecklenburg County’s Hispanic growth rate continues to boom, new census data show, and helps cement the county’s status as a place where minorities remain in the majority.
The non-white Hispanic population grew 14.8 percent between 2010 and last year, estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau show, more than double the white growth rate.
Hispanics are now 12.7 percent of Mecklenburg’s population, an estimated 128,473 people among 1.01 million residents.
Hispanics are drawn to the area for its reputation as being generally accepting of immigrants, a robust economy and good quality of life, said Owen Furuseth, a geography professor at UNC Charlotte who has studied the area’s Hispanic population.
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While an earlier wave of immigrants in the late 1980s and 1990s were blue-collar, lower-wage earners, Furuseth said that has shifted to include more college-educated, skilled workers and families.
Charlotte is seeking ways to make it easier for immigrants to live, work and succeed in the city. As part of that movement, Charlotte is pursuing a municipal ID program for all residents, including people who are here illegally. It’s one of the ideas that grew out of the city’s Immigration Integration Task Force.
Many people the Latin American Coalition sees are from elsewhere in the United States or are already living here and starting families, said Ana Suarez, the coalition’s communication coordinator.
The coalition is a nonprofit service provider and immigrants’ rights advocate. The growth rates did not surprise Suarez, who said, “There’s no shortage of clients that we serve.”
Growth in the Latino population can be seen throughout the Charlotte region, where every county saw some increase in its Hispanic population.
In Cabarrus County, for instance, Hispanics account for 10 percent of the population for the first time. Cabarrus also saw a double-digit growth rate for Hispanics between 2010 and last year, as did Iredell, Union and Gaston counties.
While three-fourths of Gaston’s population is white, its growth remained stagnant over the past four years at 0.5 percent. Its Hispanic population during that time approached 11 percent, estimates show.
And Hispanics continue to flock to York County, S.C., which saw a 21.5 percent growth in its Latino population since the last census. That’s the third-highest rate in the Carolinas for counties with at least 10,000 Hispanics, behind only Harnett and Onslow counties in North Carolina.
Hispanic growth in the suburbs reflects a familiar desire to settle down and continue to pursue economic opportunities, Furuseth said. “Hispanics,” he said, “are following the American dream.”
Mecklenburg’s black population remains the county’s largest minority group and accounts for 30.9 percent of the population. The African-American growth rate was 12.2 percent between 2010 and last year. Asians are 5.4 percent of the population; their growth surged by 27.2 percent.
In 2012, Mecklenburg officially became a majority-minority county, with non-Hispanic whites accounting for 49.8 percent of the population. Two years later, they are at 48.8 percent.
Nevada will be the next state to be majority-minority, the Census Bureau said. Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas already have that distinction, as does the District of Columbia.
The Carolinas are still a ways away from that designation, but both states are moving slowly in that direction. The white majority in North Carolina was 65.4 percent in 2010 and 64.1 percent last year, while South Carolina moved from 64.2 percent white to 63.9 percent during that time.
▪ In Mecklenburg County, nearly 19,000 people are estimated to be from two or more races, a growth rate of 23.4 percent between 2010 and last year.
▪ Wake County’s Hispanic growth rate over the past four years is a little less than Mecklenburg’s at 13.4 percent.
▪ The Census Bureau counts Hispanics as an ethnicity, not a race, and it does not ask about immigration status. The new data also do not distinguish whether Latinos are from another state or another country.
But the agency is considering new ways to ask about race and ethnicity in the 2020 Census, the Pew Research Center said, including not using the word “race” at all and letting people pick their own categories.
▪ A little perspective: Los Angeles County in California has the largest Hispanic population of any county in the nation, with 4.9 million Latinos. That’s about 100,000 more residents than the entire population of South Carolina.