Primarily because of large increases in the Latino and Asian populations, Connecticut has become significantly more diverse in the past 10 years, according to U.S. Census numbers released Wednesday.
"Connecticut, for whatever reason, seems to be a place that is welcoming to a diverse population," said Ron Van Winkle, an economist and West Hartford's town manager. "They're becoming a part of what Connecticut is."
The largest percentage jump was for the Asian population, which increased 64.7 percent, from 82,313 in 2000 to 135,565 in 2010.
The Latino population increased 49.6 percent, from 320,323 in 2000 to 479,086 in 2010.
Latinos now account for 13.4 percent of the state's population of 3.57 million people, and Asians are 3.8 percent.
The African American population increased 16.9 percent and is 10.1 percent of the total population, while the white population fell 0.3 percent.
The changing face of the state has several ramifications for economic development, services such as education and health care, and politics.
Van Winkle said that the population increase is vital to the state's economic well-being and its need for workers, especially as the economy emerges from the recession.
Although the census counted both native-born and immigrants, he said the state's population grew by 4.9 percent primarily because of international immigration.
"It's very positive for Connecticut," Van Winkle said.
Werner Oyanadel, acting executive director of the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, said the numbers show the need to address several issues, including the education achievement gap between white students and their Latino and African-American counterparts.
"If this population is not graduating, it won't be prepared to be a part of the workforce of the state, and that's a problem for the economy," Oyanadel said.
Latinos also are underrepresented in state government, he said. There are no Latino state senators and they hold just nine of 151 state representative seats. He estimated that only 3 percent of positions on state boards and commissions are held by Latinos.
"While our population is exploding, we don't really see it represented in the halls of power," he said.
In response to the growth in the Asian population, the state created the Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission, which started work last year.
Commission Chairman Jack K. Hasegawa, said the Asian population itself is diverse. There are third- and fourth-generation Japanese, Korean and Chinese people in the state, while immigration continues from Pakistan, India, China and Korea.
Another part of the community consists of refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries.
Asians are well represented in the state's corporations and high-tech industries and are moving into new areas, such as law, sales and marketing. The number of Asian students in the state's universities is growing, while others are opening small businesses.
"There's a lot of entrepreneurial spirit, particularly among recent immigrants," Hasegawa said.
But others, particularly refugees, remain stuck in poverty.
"They have not all shared in the mobility into the middle class," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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