1999-09-15 Lakeshore Press "Diversity increasing in Ottawa, state"

Diversity increasing in Ottawa, state
By: John Flesher
The Lakeshore Press

A census report shows Asian and Hispanic populations rose in the area and Michigan in 1990s.

Ottawa and Kent counties are following a statewide trend that shows Michigan is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse.

The changes are happening even in rural and suburban areas that remain overwhelmingly white, says a new U.S. Census Bureau report.

Both Ottawa and Kent showed gains in minority populations for blacks, Asians, Hispanics and American Indians between 1990 and 1998.

Minority gains were the most substantial in Ottawa. The county’s Hispanic population was up nearly 45 percent, while Asians increased 62.4 percent; blacks, 26.9 percent; and American Indians, 17.3 percent. Ottawa’s white populations, which grew nearly 17 percent to 235,000, still accounted for 92 percent of the overall population.

Lu Reyes, director of Holland’s Community Health Center and active in the Hispanic community, said many Hispanic see Holland as a good place to live.

“It’s a good community in which to raise a family. It has some good Christian values and work ethics. People like that,” she said. “That’s why I stayed here.

Kent County also reflected growth among minorities. Although Kent also remains predominantly white – about 80 percent – Hispanics and Asians outpaced them in rate of growth.

Kent’s white population is up 6.3 percent, while blacks increased 16.8 percent; Asians, 51 percent; and Hispanics, 36.6 percent. American Indians were up 4.6 percent.

John Reifel, an urban economics professor at Grand Valley State University, said West Michigan’s strong economy is driving some of the increases.

“This is an area where economic opportunity is rising. You can get jobs here even if you don’t have great skills. And they’re not necessarily the minimum-wage jobs,” he said.

Reifel also said the existing base of minority groups, such as Holland’s Hispanic community, may be drawing more minorities. “If people already have relations here, they know a little bit about the community,” he said.

The local changes mirror a nationwide trend propelled largely by increases in the number of Hispanics and Asians, Census Director Kenneth Prewitt said Tuesday.

Not surprisingly, urban counties with historically significant minority populations – such as Wayne and Ingham – became even more radically mixed between 1990 and 1998, the report says.

But minorities are making gains elsewhere in Michigan, although in some counties their rate of increase is deceptive because there were so few to begin with.

“Even in counties that are still 99 percent white…you are seeing increased diversity, although It may be barely noticeable,” she Kurt Metzger, a Wayne State University demographer. “It shows that the change isn’t limited to central cities or the
larger suburbs.”

Statewide, the white population grew 4.6 percent in 1990s. But the growth rate was 8.2 percent of blacks, 30.8 percent for Hispanics and 48.8 percent for Asians. Only American Indians grew at slower rate than Whites – 3.4 percent.

The Asian population has grown in all 83 Michigan counties. Hispanics have picked up residents in every county but Iosco, whose 17.6 percent overall population drop was the biggest statewide. That area was affected by the closure of Paul B.
Wurtsmith Air Force in 1993.

All but eight counties gained black residents. White population fell in 13 counties and increased elsewhere.

Nationally, the Hispanic and Asian populations of the United States have surged during the 1990s, with the number of Hispanics growing by more than 35 percent and Asians more than 40 percent, the Census Bureau said.

Minority gains have been steady and sometimes dramatic. Wayne County’s black population rose from 847,474 in 1990 to 892,025 in 1998 or 5.2 percent. Its Hispanic population was up 22.3 percent. Asians rose 38.8 percent. Meanwhile, the number of whites in Wayne County fell from 1,181,609 to 1,127,074, a 4 percent drop.

Saginaw County also lost 4 percent of its white residents, while its black population was up about 5 percent and its Hispanic population rose 21.7 percent. In many rural counties, the rate of minority population growth was more impressive than actual totals. For example, blacks almost doubled in Alcona County, but their numbers rose only from 20 to 38. Leelanau’s black population jumped more than 100 percent – from 15 to 34.

The biggest population rate increases for blacks were in three Upper Peninsula counties: Luce, Schoolcraft and Iron. But local officials said that results mostly from the opening of prisons in those counties.