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Orlando Sentinel

Sunbelt Fractures Between Hispanic, Black; Florida Is Melting Pot State

December 28, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

The 2000 census figures released Thursday tell a story as old as the nation itself -- the restless shifting of the American population searching for better lives somewhere else.

   But there were new nuances in the 1990s, subtle subtexts behind the box scores of winners and losers.

   The Sunbelt, for example, has fractured in half. Florida, Texas, New Mexico and California have become melting pots of population growth benefiting from Hispanic and Asian immigration. Other Southern states -- from Virginia down through the Carolinas and across to Arkansas -- are primarily attracting blacks returning to the South and whites leaving the big cities and suburbs of the North.

   "I see the Sunbelt dividing between melting pot states and the New Sunbelt states growing mostly from domestic migration," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan.

   Melting pot states of Florida, California, Texas and New York are home to two-thirds of the nation's voting age Hispanics and Asians. In California, Asians and Hispanics constitute 40 percent of the adult population.

   But most of the growth in New Sunbelt states has come from blacks and whites relocating from the North.

   The return of blacks to the South accelerated in the 1990s with the region's job growth, Frey said. Hispanics also have been relocating from northern cities to the South.

   Between 1990 and 1999, the Puerto Rican population of New York fell by 16 percent to about 750,000.

   "The Puerto Rican population has consistently grown, and this is the first time in our history that it's declined," said Angelo Falcon, senior policy executive for the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy in New York.

   In addition, New Sunbelt states have been drawing white middle-class suburbanites from the Northeast and Midwest. The result is Georgia and North Carolina had growth rates in the 1990s that rival Florida.

   Left behind by the migration of blacks, Hispanics, and middle-class whites are older people and "forgotten majority" white males, Frey said.

   Out west, the exodus of whites from California fueled population booms in the Mountain states of Nevada, Utah, Idaho and Montana. During the 1990s, an estimated 2 million California residents moved out. If not for immigrants, the state would have lost population in the 2000 Census.

   Utah, meanwhile, became the fourth-fastest growing state during the '90s. Idaho became the fifth fastest.

   Even some of the old patterns of migration from rural to urban, city to suburb, changed in the 1990s. The migration from the rural Midwest continued in the '90s -- enough for Iowa's governor to encourage immigration to his state openly. But in the Sunbelt states, small towns have become magnets for retirees and high-tech workers who live wherever they want.

   Immigrants also are no longer gravitating only to the inner cities. They are just as likely to relocate in the suburbs where housing is still affordable, crime is lower, public education is better, and there's likely to be an existing ethnic community.

   "The new immigrant is leapfrogging the city and going to the first ring of suburbs," said Harold Hodgkinson, a demographer and co-director of the Center for Democratic Policy in Washington.

   In Florida all the population trends converged in the 1990s -- immigration, black migration, white Northern suburbanites. The Sunshine State gets it all.

   "All of Florida is growing, but some parts are growing from domestic migration from the Northeast and Midwest," Frey said. "And you have some areas with large numbers of blacks. And in other parts of the state immigrants are moving from South America and Puerto Rico."

   Look at Florida, and you see a microcosm of America.

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