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Hispanic population continues to rise in NC as white population trails

North Carolina's Hispanic population has grown faster since 2010 than both the white and the black population, according to recently released Census data estimates.

The state's Hispanic population between 2010 and 2017 increased by 22 percent, to 1.26 million. During that same time, Mecklenburg County's Hispanic population grew by 28 percent to 143,400. The black population in Mecklenburg increased by 22 percent and the white population increased by 11 percent, according to the Census data.

The county is now home to 1.08 million people.

Rebecca Tippett, founding director of Carolina Demography at UNC Chapel Hill, said urban areas like Mecklenburg County and areas that appeal to retirees typically tend to drive the bulk of population growth in the Carolinas.

Nearly 30 of NC's 100 counties saw their Hispanic population grow by 25 percent or more between 2010 and 2017. Coastal Bertie County had the highest Hispanic growth rate in the state at 66 percent.

Owen Furuseth, professor emeritus of geography at UNC Charlotte, said the high levels of growth in the state's Hispanic population has its origins in the 1980s.

"There was this discovery of the Southeast, and particularly North Carolina ... and it was largely, at that point, driven by economic opportunity," he said.

Growth since then, he said, is largely due to migration of families and individuals driven by the state's reputation of having a good quality of life, strong job opportunities and a strong economy.

The Hispanic population increased faster than the white population in 98 of North Carolina's 100 counties from 2010 to 2017.

It increased faster than the black population in all but 13 counties.

No NC county had fewer Hispanic residents in 2017 than it did in 2010. More than half of NC counties saw a decrease in white population. And 45 percent saw a decrease in black population.

Tippett said the white population in many areas in the state is experiencing population aging, which contributes to the lower growth rates.

In fact, a recently released report from the Applied Population Lab found that North Carolina is among 26 states in which there were more deaths than births among the white population in 2016.

"When you factor that in to rural counties, where there may not be as strong of in-migration flows, and the aging of the older population, you are definitely going to see the potential for population decline of those older groups," Tippett said.

She said that a lot of the Hispanic, Asian, and multiracial population are fairly young – under the age of 45.

"(This) means that that population can grow both from people moving in and because they're going to be having more babies born than they are dying," Tippett said.

There are about 229,000 people of two or more races in NC. The multiracial population category has grown in the state – 31 percent since 2010.

"(The multiracial population growth rates) simply reflect the fact that the cultural taboos of the old South about couples dating and marriage have crumbled in terms of where we are as a country today," Furuseth said.

Bob Coats, the governor's liaison to the Census Bureau, said it's important to remember that these estimates are based on the 2010 Census, and that all of that data was self-reported.

"How people identify has changed a lot in recent decades, which is why the multiple race categories appeared on the Census last time because people had said, 'We don't identify with any one race,'" he said.

The multiracial population only slightly exceeds the state's rapidly growing Asian population, estimated to comprise 215,000 people in 2017, which grew at 44 percent from 2010 to 2017 and 4.9 percent from 2016 to 2017.

There are about 161,000 people who identify as American Indian on the Census estimates in N.C. About a third of them live in Robeson County, home to the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.

The American Indian population has increased by 9 percent since 2010.

Coats said the Census estimates are critical for apportioning both political representation as well as funding to support changing populations.

"The Census reflects our changing face of our communities and how those look," he said. "How we adjust to that information is really the challenge of all local governments."

Metzler: 704-358-5533, @crmetzler