by Hope Yen
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP)—According to data released March 24, African-Americans in search of wider spaces increasingly left big cities such as Detroit, Chicago and New York for the suburbs, typically in the South. Both Michigan and Illinois had their first declines in the Black population since statehood as many of their residents opted for warmer climates in the suburbs of places such as Atlanta, Dallas and Houston.

Hispanics accounted for more than half of the U.S. population increase over the last decade, exceeding estimates in most states as they crossed a new census milestone: 50 million, or 1 in 6 Americans.

NO EASY ANSWERS— Detroit Mayor Dave Bing answers questions from reporters during a news conference about the census count March 22, in Detroit. Hammered by the auto industry’s slump, Detroit saw its population plummet 25 percent over the past decade. (AP Photo/Detroit News, Clarence Tabb Jr.)

Meanwhile, more than 9 million Americans checked two or more race categories on their 2010 census forms, up 32 percent from 2000, a sign of burgeoning multiracial growth in an increasingly minority nation.

The Census Bureau released its first set of national-level findings from the 2010 count on race and migration, detailing a decade in which rapid minority growth, aging whites and the housing boom and bust were the predominant story lines.

Analysts said the results confirmed a demographic transformation under way that is upending traditional notions of racial minorities, political swing districts, even city and suburb.

“These are big demographic changes,” said Mark Mather, an associate vice president at the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau. “There is going to be some culture shock, especially in communities that haven’t had high numbers of immigrants or minorities in the past.”

Multiracial Americans now make up 2.9 percent of the U.S. population, a steadily growing group—even if it did not include President Barack Obama, who identified himself only as African-American on his census form. Obama’s mother Ann Dunham, a white woman from Kansas, married his father, the Kenyan native Barack Obama Sr.

The vast majority of multiracial Americans lived in California, Texas, New York and Hawaii. The most numerous race combinations were White-American Indian or Alaskan Native, White-Black and White-“some other race.” In some cases, White Hispanics may be opting to list themselves as multiracial in the “some other race” category, which would put the actual number of multiracial Americans lower than the official tally of 9 million.

In all, racial and ethnic minorities made up about 90 percent of the total U.S. growth since 2000, part of a historic trend in which minorities are expected to become the majority by midcentury.

After initial fears of low participation, the 2010 count of the Hispanic population came in 900,000 higher than expected, matching or surpassing census estimates in 37 states, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan think tank.

“Hispanics and immigrant minorities are providing a much needed tonic for an older, largely White population which is moving into middle age and retirement,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, who analyzed many of the census figures. “They will form the bulk of our labor force growth in the next decade as they continue to disperse into larger parts of the country.”

Among census findings:

•The number of non-Hispanic Whites, whose median age is now 41, edged up slightly to 196.8 million. Declining birth rates meant their share of the total U.S. population dropped over the last decade from 69 percent to roughly 64 percent.

•In about 10 states, the share of children who are minorities has already passed 50 percent, up from five states in 2000. They include Mississippi, Georgia, Maryland, Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, California, New Mexico and Hawaii.

•Asians grew by 43 percent over the last decade. They were tied with Hispanics as the fastest growing demographic group. For the first time Asians also had a larger numeric gain than African-Americans, who remained the second largest minority group at 37.7 million.

In large metropolitan regions, U.S. suburbs are becoming more politically competitive because of their fast growth and changing demographics, said Robert Lang, a demographer at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. He noted that minorities are increasingly moving from cities to nearby suburbs, while more conservative Whites living in far-flung suburbs known as exurbs were moving closer to cities due to a spike in gas prices and the housing bust.

“That’s the new contested space,” Lang said, noting that Democrat Obama was able to win many suburban areas in 2008 before Republicans reclaimed much of the turf in the 2010 elections. “They grew the fastest in the last decade without resolving which way they will vote.”

Census director Robert Groves said the agency had not yet received any formal complaints about the census count and that overall indicators showed high accuracy in 2010 compared to 2000.

In all, U.S. metropolitan areas grew more than 10 percent over the last decade. It was also home to a record share of 83.7 percent of the U.S. population, with much of the growth in suburban areas.

“We expect this to continue,” Groves said.

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