Since the recession of 2008 and 2009, rapid growth among minority and ethnic groups has combined with a stagnant white population to make Whatcom County increasingly more diverse.
The growth of the county’s white population has slowed to a crawl at least since 2010, while the number of residents of Hispanic and Asian descent continued to grow rapidly, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
For the second year in a row, Asians made up the fastest growing racial group in the county. Within that group, census surveys suggest the Vietnamese could be the next big wave of immigrants.
Census Bureau population estimates for the county added only 889 residents who described themselves as “white” from 2010 to 2013 — a gain of 0.5 percent in three years.
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In the same period, Whatcom County’s Asian population increased 15 percent; the black population 14 percent; the Hispanic population 12 percent; and American or Alaskan natives, 3 percent.
Population growth among Hispanics has slowed slightly since 2011, making Asians the fastest-growing population in Whatcom County. The Asian population increased 4.7 percent from 2012 to 2013, compared to 3.3 percent for Hispanics over the same time. The county’s black population increased 4.5 percent, but that put it at only 1.0 percent of the county’s overall population.
Hispanics made up 8.6 percent of the county population in 2013. Asians were 4.0 percent.
New numbers from the Census Bureau, released on Thursday, Dec. 4, shed more light on the nationalities of Asians in the county. The latest release is from the five-year American Community Survey, which combines data from 2009 to 2013. This is the richest data set the Census Bureau offers outside the 10-year census, and it is the next-best thing for looking at population trends in individual communities and among specific nationalities.
Much of the growth in the Asian population was in the north county. The numbers of Asians are small in places such as Lynden and Birch Bay, which brings more statistical uncertainty, but the growth was significant enough in some communities to be valid.
Comparing the 2009-13 five-year survey to a similar set of data from 2005-09, the Asian population in Blaine grew almost fivefold, to 629. In Birch Bay, the number of Asians quadrupled, to 805. Those numbers could be 50 percent higher or lower, given the sampling error.
Uncertainty aside, the numbers appear reasonable to locals who keep a close eye on Asian population trends.
Satpal Sidhu, a leader in Whatcom’s Sikh community and a recent candidate for state political office, said the Asian Indian population had grown 15 or 20 percent in between the periods of the two five-year surveys. He estimated there were 2,500 to 2,800 people in the county who originated from India, Pakistan or Fiji.
According to the Census Bureau’s surveys, more than 200 Asian Indians arrived in Blaine between 2005-09 and 2009-13.
“Blaine’s Asian Indian population increase is attributed to new families moving into Whatcom County from our state and other parts of the USA to be closer to their relatives in Surrey and the lower mainland,” Sidhu wrote in an email to The Bellingham Herald.
Lynden’s Indian population has also grown in the past decade, Sidhu said, although statistics from the five-year surveys were too uncertain to confirm this.
“Lynden is attractive for many Punjabi families, who prefer to own and live on a farm even if they work in other cities in the county,” Satpal said. Punjab is a state in India. “More people are buying blueberry and raspberry farms, which has been the growing trend for the past 10 years among Asian Indian families.”
Another Asian group rising rapidly in the county is the Vietnamese, according to census figures. From 2005 to 2009, the survey didn’t count any Vietnamese in Birch Bay. From 2009 to 2013, the American Community Survey estimated Birch Bay’s Vietnamese population at 460, out of a total of about 8,000.
“I think the increasing Vietnamese population is a local reflection of a trend across the nation,” wrote Baozhen Luo in an email to the Herald. Luo is an assistant professor of sociology at Western Washington University who studies demographics. “Since the end of Vietnam War in 1975, there has been a consistent surge of Vietnamese immigrant population in the U.S., from around 200,000 in the 1980s to 1.3 million in 2012.”
Generally, Vietnamese are less proficient at English than some other Asian immigrants, Luo said, so Vietnamese would be more likely to establish small businesses in the county rather than seek professional careers.
That makes Vietnamese immigrants a good fit with the county economy, Luo said.
“We really don’t have many employment opportunities for professionals,” she said. “What we do have in terms of job prospects is starting a service-based small business, usually family owned.”
The Vietnamese population more than doubled in the county between 2005-09 and 2009-13, according to the surveys. In Bellingham, the Vietnamese population increased from 615 to 900 over that period.
“The Vietnamese population, similar to many new immigrants throughout history, tend to be engaged in ‘chain migration,’” Luo said. “People tend to migrate by extended family rather than individuals or one nuclear family. It could be that the first 615 people in Bellingham are the start of the chain.”