Immigrants from Asia - not Latin America - are leading the trend to a more diverse Whatcom County, the latest U.S. Census Bureau statistics show.
Among county residents claiming only one race or ethnicity, the number who are of Asian descent increased 5.3 percent between 2011 and 2012, from 7,822 to 8,238.
Asians make up 4 percent of the county population and are the third most common group behind non-Hispanic whites, at 81 percent, and Hispanics, at 8.4 percent.
The latest population estimates, for July 1, 2012, were released Thursday, June 13.
Hispanics have made up the fastest-growing population in the county over the past 12 years. That group has grown an average of 5.7 percent annually since 2000 but dipped to 3.6 percent in 2012.
The rates of Hispanic and Asian population growth are considerably higher than that of whites, which has been 1.1 percent per year on average since 2000.
Asians are immigrating to the U.S. to get a college education, said Baozhen Luo, assistant professor of sociology at Western Washington University. The schools are better in the U.S., Luo said, and Whatcom County is especially attractive to foreign-born Asians for its proximity to Vancouver, B.C.
As the economies grow in Asian nations, there are more opportunities for their citizens and therefore more incentive to come to the U.S. to study.
"A lot of universities, colleges and community colleges are recruiting students from Asian countries, particularly China ... because of the booming economy over there. It's a tremendous market," Luo said.
On the other hand, a slower economy in the United States is driving down the number of Hispanic immigrants.
"People are having a harder time finding work, so it's harder to come this far north," said Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community to Community Development, an advocacy group in Bellingham that works on immigration and food-justice issues.
She also said the census may undercount Latinos in Whatcom County because it is on the international border and some undocumented immigrants have the mistaken idea that census data is shared with law enforcement.
"For people in Whatcom County, the fear factor is huge," Guillen said.
Similar to the statewide and national trend, whites in Whatcom County have steadily become a smaller fraction of the total population since 2000, even through a slowdown in overall population growth coincided with the recession. The county was growing at a 2 percent annual rate from 2004 to 2008, but that rate dipped to 0.8 percent in 2012.
The census data is clear on the reason why: Net annual migration into the county, for the year ending July 1, decreased 72 percent from 2008 to 2012 (from 3,197 to 892). Births in the county decreased just 8 percent over that period, from 2,401 to 2,212.
City and county planning officials have been saying for about a year that they expect the county to catch up with the recovering economy and start growing again.
New-home construction figures in Bellingham indicate this may be true. The city has issued 72 building permits for new single-family homes in the first five months of 2013. Over the same period last year, the city issued only 37 permits.
The shrinking white population in America has been thoroughly reported for years now. The headline coming out of the latest census data was that more deaths than births were recorded among whites during the year ending July 1, 2012. The media has begun a countdown to the year 2043, when whites will become a minority in the U.S. if current trends continue.
Following a straight line through the white population trend from 2000 to 2012 in Washington, the state will become minority white about a decade later, in 2055.
If the 12-year trend holds in Whatcom County, it won't become minority white until the year 2101.
POPULATION IN WHATCOM COUNTY, 2012
White (non-Hispanic): 81 percent.
Hispanic: 8.4 percent.
Asian: 4 percent.
American Indian: 3.1 percent.
African American: 1.2 percent.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau