2020 Census: Georgia’s minority populations have surged

Nearly half of the state’s growth happened in the four largest Atlanta-area counties – Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett. They grew by nearly a half a million people. The skyline of downtown Atlanta is visible near Lindbergh on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. (Christine Tannous / christine.tannous@ajc.com)

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Nearly half of the state’s growth happened in the four largest Atlanta-area counties – Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett. They grew by nearly a half a million people. The skyline of downtown Atlanta is visible near Lindbergh on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. (Christine Tannous / christine.tannous@ajc.com)

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Government will use figures in allocating hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds

Georgia grew substantially more diverse over the last 10 years as its Black, Hispanic and Asian populations surged and as its number of white residents dropped slightly, according to new 2020 U.S. Census data released Thursday.

Statewide, the number of Black Georgians increased by 13%, while the white population dropped by 1%. Meanwhile, the state’s Asian population jumped by 53% and its Hispanic population rose by 32%. The Peach State narrowly remained majority white at just over 50%.

“We know these changes are happening rapidly, so if we are not already a majority-minority state, we will be soon,” said Mike Carnathan, a research and analytics director for the Atlanta Regional Commission.

ExploreMetro Atlanta is now majority-nonwhite, according to Census 2020

Georgia’s population jumped by 10% to 10.7 million between 2010 and 2020, adding about 1 million people but failing to pick up another seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Nearly half of the state’s growth happened in the four largest Atlanta-area counties Carnathan tracks – Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett. Combined, they grew by nearly a half a million people.

The new numbers will help the government decide where to send hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds for hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads and other services. They will also help businesses decide where to build new factories and stores.

Georgia lawmakers will use the data to redraw state and congressional legislative districts, ensuring each has an equal number of constituents as the state’s population has grown, especially in metropolitan areas.

At the same time, 67 of Georgia’s 159 counties — most of them smaller and rural — lost population, part of a nationwide trend.

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August 5, 2020 Americus - Aerial photo shows downtown Americus on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

 August 5, 2020 Americus - Aerial photo shows downtown Americus on Wednesday, August 5, 2020.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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August 5, 2020 Americus - Aerial photo shows downtown Americus on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Tom Smith, an economist who teaches at Emory University, underscored the challenges of conducting the census in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, which delayed the Census Bureau’s work for months. Cities and counties that saw their populations shrink or grow more slowly than expected, he said, will “lose federal funding in all types of areas. And those cities now are scrambling to figure out how they are going to budget for some of their services.”

The Asian American population boomed in the Atlanta region during the last 10 years, including in Forsyth County, where jobs and housing are plentiful. Forsyth saw its Asian population more than triple to 34,256. Gwinnett added more than 41,000 Asian residents.

“We have known, especially over the last 10 years, that our communities have really thrived, especially in North Atlanta suburbs,” said Aisha Yaqoob, executive director of Asian American Advocacy Fund. “We’re going to continue to see shifts, especially as industries’ needs in health care and education continue to grow in the next few years.”

Asian Americans in the Atlanta area are seeking better political representation.

“We hope that elected officials are taking note,” said Karuna Ramachandran, who directs statewide partnerships for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta. “What the data is telling us is that no one can afford to ignore Asian Americans anymore. They just have to pay more attention.”

“We’re still fighting for really basic things like language access, which feels like such an uphill battle,” she added.

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December 9, 2020 Lilburn - Gwinnett County Public Schools' Hispanic Mentoring Program staff Nury Crawford (second from left), program director, and Tania Muniz (third from left) with parent volunteer Marilu Bamaca (right) help parents Maria Alonso (left) as she picks up two science experiments and gift her son at Plaza Las Americas in Lilburn on Wednesday, December 9, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

December 9, 2020 Lilburn - Gwinnett County Public Schools' Hispanic Mentoring Program staff Nury Crawford (second from left), program director, and Tania Muniz (third from left) with parent volunteer Marilu Bamaca (right) help parents Maria Alonso (left) as she picks up two science experiments and gift her son at Plaza Las Americas in Lilburn on Wednesday, December 9, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

caption arrowCaption
December 9, 2020 Lilburn - Gwinnett County Public Schools' Hispanic Mentoring Program staff Nury Crawford (second from left), program director, and Tania Muniz (third from left) with parent volunteer Marilu Bamaca (right) help parents Maria Alonso (left) as she picks up two science experiments and gift her son at Plaza Las Americas in Lilburn on Wednesday, December 9, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia’s Hispanic population has reached 1.1 million, up from 853,689 in 2010. Clayton County’s Hispanic population increased by 19% and Gwinnett’s rose by 16%, good for the second and third biggest jumps in the state.

Such increases should be reflected in the redistricting decisions lawmakers will make in 2021, said Jerry Gonzalez, who leads the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.

“The census is about two things. It’s about power and money, and redistricting is about that, too,” he said. That process “should demonstrate the growth and influence of communities, particularly communities of color across the state that grew so significantly. Redistricting should take that into account and… not preserve power for politicians.”

Charlton County, a small rural county near the Florida border, saw its Hispanic population grow by the biggest rate at 21%. It is home to the Folkston ICE Processing Center, an immigration detention facility. Nearly 19% of Charlton’s 12,518 residents live in correctional facilities, census data shows.

Gonzalez and other Latino advocates believe it’s too soon to rule out the possibility of an undercount. The lead-up to the census was marred by controversy and confusion surrounding the Trump administration’s unsuccessful attempt to add a question to the census questionnaire about citizenship status. Pandemic-related disruptions could also have disproportionately affected Latinos and other communities of color.

“Because of everything that was happening in 2020, I’m just going to guess that the growth might be even more than” 32%, said Santiago Marquez, CEO of the Latin American Association.

COVID-19, he said, was particularly damaging, forcing in-person canvassing efforts during the census rollout from organizations like the LAA to be scaled back or shifted online.

“We weren’t able to canvas the way that we would have and I think that really hurt us,” he said. “The pandemic really slowed down a lot of those efforts and there was only so much that could be done in 2020, especially with harder-to-reach populations.”

AJC data specialist John Perry contributed to this report.

Census 2020: Interactive map shows how Georgia counties changed since 2010