Georgia gets more urban and diverse as white residents dip
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia is growing ever more urban and ever more diverse, Census figures released Thursday show, continuing a shift in population toward metro Atlanta and away from the rural areas that were once the backbone of the state.
The state’s fastest-growing areas remain in the suburbs of Atlanta, Savannah and Augusta. Bryan County, just south of Savannah, grew by 48% over the decade, the sixth-fastest-growing county in the nation. Forsyth County, north of Atlanta, grew by 43%, the 13th-fastest-growing county nationally.
Metro Atlanta’s core counties didn’t grow as rapidly, percentage-wise, but all added large numbers of people. Of the just more than 1 million people that the state added between 2010 and 2020, about 152,000 were in Gwinnett County and about 146,000 were in Fulton County. Cobb, Forsyth and DeKalb counties each added more than 70,000 residents. Most of those areas will see their share of political representation increase.
Georgia’s total population rose to 10.7 million, up 10.6% from 9.7 million in 2010.
Some of that growth was concentrated in core areas. Atlanta grew to 498,000 people from 420,000 in 2010. That’s a nearly 19% growth rate, faster than Fulton and DeKalb counties as a whole. It’s also the city’s largest-ever Census population, surpassing 495,000 in 1970.
The share of Georgia’s residents who identify as white and non-Hispanic shrank to 50.1%, the lowest on record, signifying that the state’s transition to majority-minority may have already happened in the year since the Census was taken.
The raw number of people who identify as white alone fell by more than 50,000, to under 5.4 million. Some of that change is because more people are identifying as a combination of races or ethnicities, with changes in how the Census asks about those subjects. People identifying as Black alone rose by 367,000 to 3.3 million, while people identifying as Hispanic or Latino rose by 270,000 to 1.1 million, as Georgia continues to act as a beacon for in-migration among nonwhite groups.
As late as 1980, 70% of Georgians were white. Georgia’s white population had never previously fallen below 53%, the level it hit in 1890.
Almost every urban county saw its share of nonwhite residents expand, even on the far suburban frontier like in Jackson County, northeast of Atlanta.
“I do think one of the big stories out of the 2020 Census is going to be the relationship between diversity and growth,” said Charlie Hayslett, who studies Georgia’s demographics. “Based on the counties I’ve been able to drill down on so far, the ones that have experienced meaningful growth and that have vibrant economies have also seen a significant increase in the diversity of their populations.”
The numbers set the stage for Georgia lawmakers to redraw its 14 congressional seats, 56 state Senate seats and 180 state House seats. Districts for county commissions, school boards and city councils must also be redrawn to account for shifts in local population.
At the statewide level, the population shift signals a further shift in political power to metro Atlanta and metro Savannah. The numbers are likely to mean that some districts representing rural areas of middle and south Georgia have to be shifted instead to places like Forsyth County.
Georgia was once a state dominated politically, economically and socially by rural white people, but their dominance has been crumbling for decades. Telfair County is the onetime home of Gov. Eugene Talmadge, a titan of rural white politics from the 1920s to 1940s. It shrank by 24%, the 10th fastest decline in the nation. Dooly County shrank by 25%, the ninth fastest decline.
Georgia had 92 counties that gained population and 67 that lost population. Dougherty County, home to Albany, lost the most people.
“All that has obvious implications for reapportionment, but it goes beyond that,” Hayslett said. “It’s very difficult for counties that are losing population to sustain themselves economically or in any other way. The General Assembly will no doubt be at its creative best when it redraws congressional and legislative districts; longer-term, I hope they can be as creative when it comes to addressing the problems in rural Georgia, especially south of the gnat line.”
Percentage-wise, it was the slowest growing decade for Georgia since the 1940s, although Georgia rose to the eighth-largest state and added the fourth-most number of new residents overall, behind Texas, Florida and California, respectively.
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