Census Shows More Blacks, Hispanics Moving To N.C.

The state's population has been increasing over the past 10 years. William Frey of the Brookings Institution says the Census figures indicate two major trends: black migration back to the South, and a growing Hispanic population in a region where traditionally race meant only black and white.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

The U.S. Census Bureau has been putting out information over the last several months. From the 2010 census we're learning about one state after another. And this week we heard about North Carolina. The state's population is rapidly increasing. And we've learned that people of all races are flocking there, some of them faster than others, which is of great interest to William Frey. He's a demographer at the Brookings Institution who specializes in race.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. WILLIAM FREY (Brookings Institution): Oh, it's good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: So how is North Carolina changing?

Mr. FREY: Well, it's growing. North Carolina grew by 18.5 percent during this last decade. And so from that perspective it's looking good. It also is part of two major trends that are going on in the United States. One is the dispersion of Hispanics to all parts of the country and especially the Southeast. And secondly, it's a continued growth of blacks and movement of blacks back to the South.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about those one at a time, because you talk about African-Americans moving back to the South. People will know that African-Americans moved massively north from the late 1800s all the way through to the 1950s and a little bit beyond even. You're saying people are going back again.

Mr. FREY: Yes. The first inkling of the movement back to the South is really in the 1970s. In the '80s it continued. But it was really the '90s and this decade where we seen huge gains of blacks in the southern states. About 75 percent of the growth of the black population in the United States took place in the South in the last 10 years. It's really quite dramatic.

INSKEEP: You know, I'm fascinated by this, because in anecdotal terms you hear about people who migrate from a small southern town and many of them end up going to the same northern town. York, Pennsylvania, for example, has a lot of African-Americans who trace their roots to a specific town in the Carolinas. And so I guess it's not surprising the people might turn around and go back. They've still got connections back in the place that they came from.

Mr. FREY: Yes. There are several strands of this black migration back to the South. And one of them certainly is people who have kin ties - uncles, grandparents and so forth - going back to the South. But the other strand is a lot of young African-American professionals are going to states where there are a lot of good job opportunities and an emerging and an existing black middle class that will help them connect into the job market and just into the community. I think all of that is attracting blacks back to a place like North Carolina.

INSKEEP: So the movement of African-Americans back to the South is a big deal, a historic development. But you're suggesting that the movement of Hispanics to a place like North Carolina seems even bigger.

Mr. FREY: Yes. North Carolina, after the last census in 2000, its growth in the Hispanic population was just eye-popping to the rest of the nation. And I didn't think it could outdo that. But it seems to have. I mean, it's now doubled its Hispanic population in the last 10 years.

I was looking at some of the numbers. There's 100 hundred counties in North Carolina. And 63 of them now have at least 5 percent of their population that's Hispanic. Whereas 20 years ago none of them did, which in a state or in cities which largely have been viewed as white and black really makes a huge difference.

INSKEEP: So is this spread of Hispanics that you see across North Carolina also appearing across the South?

Mr. FREY: Oh, absolutely. And I think that we can expect in almost all of the southern states that there'll be bigger gains in Hispanics than there will be in blacks. That says a lot about what's helping to populate the South, and especially the really economically prosperous parts of the South.

INSKEEP: What does this migration mean politically for a southern state like North Carolina?

Mr. FREY: Well, that's an interesting question, because, you know, the South has turned into the solid South for Republicans after it had been the solid South for Democrats for many decades.

And you know, a large part of that Republican support has come from the white population, which is still the predominant population in most of these states. But now, with growing Hispanics moving there, in addition to more blacks moving to the South, I think that will change a lot.

The fact that Barack Obama took North Carolina and took Virginia in 2008 has a lot to do with the voting, both the turn-out and the preferences of the Hispanic and the black populations in those two states.

INSKEEP: What does this migration mean culturally for a southern state like North Carolina?

Mr. FREY: Yeah. I think that's also an interesting question, because we're also not only having a clash - I wouldn't call it a clash, but we'll say a transformation, between kind of an older southern culture - white and black, sometimes, you know, hostile, sometimes accommodating each other - into not only movement in - of Hispanics, but also whites and blacks who grew up in other parts of the country, from the greater northeast metropolitan areas, from the Midwest metropolitan areas, coming to the state. They weren't southerners by birth, they weren't southerners even maybe second generation. They're really from a different part of the country and a different culture, and they're bringing that to North Carolina in addition to the changing race and ethnic climate.

INSKEEP: William Frey of the Brookings Institution has been looking over newly released census figures for North Carolina.

Thanks very much.

Mr. FREY: Sure, I enjoyed it.

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