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County more racially diverse, Census says

March 20, 2001

County more racially diverse, Census says



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY

andreabh@herald-mail.com

Racial diversity in Washington County has increased slightly in the last decade, according to unadjusted U.S. Census 2000 figures released Monday.

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The number of residents describing themselves solely as white fell from about 93 percent in 1990 to about 90 percent on the 2000 census.

Washington County last year received a diversity index rating of 20 percent, up from the 14.1 percent diversity rating it received in 1990. The USA Today diversity index represents the probability that two people selected at random will be of a different race or ethnic background.

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With increased diversity, Washington County is "going to become a more sophisticated place to live," said Michael H. Parsons, sociology professor at Hagerstown Community College.

Race and ethnicity play a "critical" role in such factors as economics, family, religion, politics and education, Parsons said.

More diversity equals more opportunities for federal grant money because the government encourages racial diversity, he said.

More diversity also means that people will develop more realistic perceptions of the world around them, Parsons said.

People in less diverse communities tend to form skewed expectations about values and behaviors beyond their sheltered environments because they have a limited frame of reference, Parsons said.

They often experience "culture shock" when they venture out into the world, he said.

Change is coming slowly to Washington County, giving its residents more time to adapt to the increased diversity, Parsons said.

The vast majority of the county's population remains white, with 118,348 of 131,923 total residents describing themselves as white only.

But nearly 8 percent of residents, or 10,247, said they were black, and almost 1 percent described themselves as Asian (1,050), American Indian (239), Pacific Islander (55) or "other" (611).

In 1990, 6 percent of the county's total population was black and about 1 percent fell into the other minorities category.

Census numbers take into account the mostly black inmate population at the prison complex south of Hagerstown.

The census previously allowed Americans to pick from one of five major racial categories - including white, black, Asian-Pacific Islander, Native American and other - to describe themselves.

For 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau split Asian from Pacific Islander and allowed Americans to declare multiple races, creating a total of 63 possible combinations.

Nearly 99 percent of Washington County residents, or 130,550, said they were of one race. One percent of residents (1,373) said they were multiracial or biracial.

The majority of multiracial county residents identified themselves as partially white.

The Census Bureau divides Americans into only two ethnic categories, Hispanic and non-Hispanic. About 99 percent of Washington County residents (130,353) are non-Hispanic, according to the 2000 census.

There has been a slight increase in the number of non-English speaking students in Washington County public schools, and more than half of those students speak Spanish, said Larry Steinly, coordinator of ESOL and foreign languages for the county Board of Education.

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