Demographic milestone at hand

Charles nearing majority-minority population status

Friday, May 15, 2009

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Charles County is racing toward majority minority status and St. Mary's County has a bumper crop of young children, according to 2008 estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week.

The census also estimates that all three Southern Maryland counties have growing minority populations, with Charles County leading the way.

According to the 2008 figures, Charles County's population is now 48 percent minorities, up from 32.1 percent in the 2000 census. The county's minority population surged from 38,750 in 2000 to an estimated 67,563 in 2008.

"I really didn't realize that we had reached that point," said William Braxton, president of the Charles County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "It's really changing around here."

Charles County's minority population has been growing steadily for the last two decades as residents of Prince George's County have moved into Waldorf and Bryans Road, seeking lower land prices and taxes.

"It's not surprising, because people are comfortable with the living situation here," Braxton said. When asked if he thought the changing demographics of the county would put more political emphasis on equality issues, Braxton said, "I think it just might."

The trend toward racial diversity is slower in the other two counties. In Calvert, the minority population has risen from 12,144 (16.3 percent) to 17,730 (20 percent) in eight years. In St. Mary's County, minorities numbered 16,233 (18.8 percent) in 2000 and rose to an estimated 22,282 (21.9 percent) in 2008.

All three counties have seen population surges in the eight years since the 2000 census. Calvert's population grew 18.9 percent from 74,563 to an estimated 88,698. Charles grew 16.7 percent from 120,546 to an estimated 140,764. And St. Mary's grew 17.8 percent from 86,211 to an estimated 101,578.

The census estimates that St. Mary's County is leading the rest of Maryland counties in the percentage of its population under 5 years of age. The county is home to an estimated 101,578 people, 7,500 (7.4 percent) of whom aren't even out of kindergarten.

The number could have huge implications for the county's schools. Evergreen Elementary School is scheduled to open in the Wildewood community in California this year with a capacity of 646 students. But a second new elementary school, planned for the Hayden property in Leonardtown, now isn't scheduled to open until August 2015.

The St. Mary's school board this week deferred opening the school two years in a vote on its capital improvements program.