GCPS first to see majority-minority

LAWRENCEVILLE -- When 2009 Census estimates were released this week showing that the majority of people who lived in Gwinnett were minorities, those familiar with the county's school system weren't surprised.

The newly released Census Bureau estimates show that Gwinnett's combined non-white populations now account for 50.8 percent of the county's overall population, a first for the county, which is now approximately 49.2 percent white. The majority of students in Gwinnett County Public Schools, however, have been minorities since the 2004-05 school year, when 46.5 percent were white.

Results from the 2000 census showed Gwinnett's population at 67.3 percent white and 32.7 percent minority. In the school year that ended in 2000, 66.6 percent of students were white.

Louise Radloff, who has served on the Gwinnett County Board of Education since 1973, said 98 percent of students were white the year she was elected. This past school year, the district was 32.7 percent white, 27.6 percent black, 25.1 percent Hispanic and 10.2 percent Asian.

"I'm not really surprised," Radloff said of Gwinnett becoming a majority-minority county. "I do think there will be a lot of individuals who will be surprised. ... If you stay in your neighborhood, your community, your church, you frequently don't see the changes on the horizon."

Betsy Dahlberg, a Gwinnett resident who lives near Meadowcreek High School, said the figures don't surprise her.

"My neighborhood has been one of the most diverse neighborhoods for years," she said.

Population changes through births, deaths and migration, said Douglas C. Bachtel, a demographer with the University of Georgia. He noted that white people live longer, but minority women have more children, so the first sector to feel the effects of a changing community is the school system.

An important factor in Gwinnett's growth has been its business-friendly environment, he said.

"There are a proliferation of job opportunities," Bachtel said, "and job opportunities mean new people moving in and growth."

The new census estimates are based on 2000 census data that was updated using administrative records to estimate components of population changes.

Jerry Gonzalez, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said he expects the numbers will be bigger on the 2010 census.

In 2003, there were 800 Latino registered voters in Gwinnett County, Gonzalez said. By January 2009, that number had jumped to 26,000.

"The electorate in Gwinnett County has changed dramatically," Gonzalez said.

Bachtel also said he wouldn't be surprised if the 2010 census shows more minorities than the 2009 estimate.

"It will probably be more comprehensive," he said. "They're not just rocking and rolling a computer keyboard to get the data. There are actually people out there counting noses."