Northern Virginia Fuels State's Growth, But at Slower Rate

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Virginia continued its trend toward a top-heavy state as population growth in the northern part of the state outpaced the rest of the commonwealth, according to census data released Thursday.

The long-awaited census figures, which will be used to redraw the state's legislative boundaries, recorded a population of 8,631,393 Virginians. That's 7.9% higher than 2010, when the state narrowly cracked the 8 million mark.

The increase slightly exceeded the national average of 7.4%

Among Virginia's 10 most populous localities, the fastest growth occurred in Prince William and Loudoun counties, in the outer suburbs of the nation's capital. Prince William's population increased 20 percent, and surpassed Virginia Beach as the state's second most populous locality.

Loudoun County's population increased 35%, the highest in the state, and it surpassed Chesterfield County as the state's fourth most populous jurisdiction.

Fairfax County, by far Virginia most populous jurisdiction, grew at a 6 percent rate to a population of 1.15 million. It is also now a majority-minority county; the census shows a white population in Fairfax of 49.5%.

While Virginia's population growth outpaced the national average, especially in northern Virginia, demographer Hamilton Lombard at the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper said the state's growth is not as rapid as it has been in past decades, especially in northern Virginia.

“It's the slowest growth we've had overall since the Great Depression,” Lombard said.

In the Hampton Roads area, Virginia Beach's population increased only 5%, and Norfolk's population shrunk by 2 percent. That was offset somewhat by above-average growth in Chesapeake and Suffolk.

In southwest Virginia, all 15 counties west of Montgomery County lost population.

In fact, on the state's southern border, every locality west of Suffolk lost population.

In central Virginia, the city of Richmond and the main suburban counties of Henrico and Chesterfield all grew faster than the statewide average.

Racial data shows that the state has become more racially diverse and less white, mirroring the national trend.

A notable exception is Richmond, which was a majority Black city in 2010, albeit by a narrow margin. The city's white population has grown substantially in the past decade; the city is now 43 percent white and 40 percent Black.

Lombard said precise comparisons on racial data are difficult, because more Americans classify themselves as multiracial and because the Census Bureau became more sophisticated and nuanced in terms of how it asked people about race.

Another trend highlighted by Lombard: college towns such as Radford, Harrisonburg and Charlottesville did not see the growth that might have been anticipated. He questioned whether the coronavirus pandemic prompted virtual learners and others to list their hometowns rather than their college towns as their places of residence.

The data released Tuesday will now by used by the state's bipartisan redistricting commission to craft new maps for the House of Delegates, state Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

The newly formed commission is working under tight deadlines; state law gives the commission just 45 days to draw up the General Assembly maps and 60 days to prepare the congressional map, which are then submitted to the legislature for an up-or-down vote.

The growth in northern Virginia should be good news for Democrats, who have dominated northern Virginia politics in recent years. Still, the greatest growth in northern Virginia has been in the outer suburbs, which have trended Democratic over the last decade but are not as hostile to Republicans as the inner suburbs.

The commission's co-chairs, Mackenzie Babichenko and Greta Harris, declined comment on the new data.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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