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Posted on Thu. May. 14, 2009 - 03:00 am EDT

County count cracks 350,000

6% hike from 2000; minority ranks surge

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Allen County surpassed a milestone last year – 350,000 residents – as its population aged and became more diverse.

The county reached the landmark with a 6 percent population increase since the last full head count in 2000, according to census estimates released today. It was a mixed bag across northeast Indiana, with most counties showing population increases since the millennium began. Two of the 11 area counties had declines.

The estimates are updated annually and reflect the population on July 1, 2008. The next full census will be conducted next year when questionnaires are sent to all U.S. households. Census workers are going street to street checking the accuracy of addresses.

The U.S. Census Bureau is billing the estimates released today as a prelude to the 2010 count and “an accurate portrait of our nation at the national, state and local level,” according to a statement by Tom Mesenbourg, the bureau’s acting director.

Much of the bureau’s focus in releasing the estimates is on the nation’s growing minority population. Six more counties became majority-minority in 2008. Nearly 10 percent of the nation’s counties are majority-minority, in which white, non-Hispanics make up less than half of the population.

While minorities make up less than a quarter of Allen County’s population, a sign of the county’s growing diversity can be seen in its youngest residents. Nearly a third of those younger than age 5 are a minority. Nationwide, nearly half of children younger than 5 are a minority, with 25 percent being Hispanic.

The local minority numbers are in line “with the dynamics going on with the population in Allen County,” said John Stafford, director of the Community Research Institute at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

But 2008 numbers don’t reflect the souring economy and its effect on population trends, Stafford said.

The Journal Gazette reported in March that in the Noble County city of Ligonier – which grew in the last two decades because of an influx of Hispanics – business owners and city officials say some immigrants are leaving because of lost jobs.

Over the long haul, population growth trails economic indicators, as people follow jobs, Stafford said. But local population numbers have done better than expected. With an economic downturn that might be prolonged in the region, how the population is reacting is unclear, Stafford said. Those trends will be seen in future census surveys.

“A year from now, two years from now will be very interesting,” Stafford said.

The nation’s population is not only becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, it is also growing older as people live longer and baby boomers age. The median age nationally reached 36.8 in 2008, up 1.5 years since 2000.

Regionally, the median age ranged from 30.9 in LaGrange County to 41.2 in Wabash County. Statewide, the median was 36.7.

Among the national findings:

•Orange County, Fla., home to Walt Disney World, was one of six counties to become majority-minority in 2008. Others were in California, Kansas, Mississippi and Texas.

•The nation’s oldest county was La Paz, Ariz., with 34 percent of it population age 65 or older in 2008.

•Cook County, Ill., had the largest black population of any county (1.4 million).

•Maine had the highest median age (42) and Utah the lowest (28.7).

•The largest and fastest-growing minority group was Hispanics, who reached 46.9 million in 2008. Nearly one in six residents was Hispanic.

•The median age for blacks was 30.3; Hispanics, 27.7; Asians, 34.2; non-Hispanic whites, 41.1.

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