White population continues to shrink

Augusta's white population is continuing to decline, according to the latest U.S. Census data.

New estimates show Richmond County with 848 fewer white residents in July 2007 than in July 2006, a 1 percent decrease. The white population has steadily decreased each year since 2000, when the decennial census put it at 92,874. It's now estimated to be 86,461.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he's skeptical about the data.

One of his stated goals has been to reverse this trend, and he said empty nesters and 20-somethings have been steadily moving back toward the city center with the creation of new jobs and the revitalization of downtown.

Realtors have said Columbia County is the destination for many leaving Augusta and that many of them are professionals, of all races, with children and are upwardly mobile.

"Based upon what I'm seeing on the ground, it's difficult for me to put a lot of validity into the estimates," Mr. Copenhaver said. "I will be very interested to see how the 2010 census turns out. I would be shocked if we're not growing in all demographics, and that would be white, black, Hispanic and Asian."

Columbia County continues to grow, and black residents comprise the fastest-growing segment of that growth.

Between 2006 and 2007, the black population rose from 15,492 to 16,448, a 6 percent increase. The white population rose from 84,518 to 86,741, a 3 percent increase.

"When the exodus takes place, the exodus takes place for the same reasons," said Evans resident Alvin Starks, the first black chairman of the Columbia County Republican Party. "If it's about property values and education, that's not indigenous to any race or population."

Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said that a few years ago, an analysis of tax office data found about half of the people moving to Columbia County came from within the area -- mostly from Richmond County -- and the rest came from outside the region.

Overall, Richmond County's estimated population had a meager increase of 31 people from 2006 to 2007, attributable to gains in the cities of Hephzibah and Blythe.

Columbia County's population rose from 105,655 to 109,100, gaining 2,509 through migration.

The Census Bureau's Web site says its estimates are based on births, deaths, migration trends and Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration data, among other things. The estimates aren't considered as reliable as data from the actual census counts, which are constitutionally required every 10 years.

"These figures aren't the gospel, but they're food for thought," said Doug Bachtel, a University of Georgia demographer and professor in the college of family and consumer sciences.

All of Georgia's second-tier cities are hemorrhaging people, and he said he doubts the declining numbers for Augusta's white population are too far off the mark, considering white populations are rising in surrounding counties.

Between 2006 and 2007, the white population increased from 107,641 to 109,310 in Aiken County, from 14,609 to 14,841 in Edgefield County and from 10,902 to 10,936 in Burke County. (The numbers dropped from 13,110 to 13,108 in McDuffie County and from 5,396 to 5,386 in Lincoln County.)

A decrease in the white population usually starts in earnest when a county's school system becomes 60 percent black, Mr. Bachtel said. Richmond County schools' percentage of black students is 73, compared with 38 percent statewide.

"It can boil down to race, and nobody likes to talk about that," Mr. Bachtel said.

Along with shrinking the tax base, the loss of white and black middle- and upper-middle-class families leaves behind people with lower incomes, lower education levels and lower job skills.

Gone are a large number of the people who form self-help, volunteer and civic groups. Many of those remaining are people just trying to figure out how they'll afford their next tank of gas.

"It kind of creates a spiral of decline," Mr. Bachtel said, "and boy is it hard to stop."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

CENSUS BREAKDOWN

RICHMOND COUNTY

  2000 2006 2007
White pop. 103,074 87,309 86,461
Black pop 100,150 102,563 103,323
Total pop 199,775 197,341 197,372

COLUMBIA COUNTY

  2000 2006 2007
White pop. 76,644 84,518 86,741
Black pop 10,085 15,492 109,100
Total pop 89,288 105,655 109,100

AIKEN COUNTY

  2000 2006 2007
White pop. 103,074 107,641 109,310
Black pop 36,622 39,194 39,509
Total pop 142,552 150,220 152,307

Note: The numbers for 2006 and 2007 are estimates.

CENSUS DATA: NATIONAL FINDINGS

- Los Angeles County had the nation's largest minority population in 2007. Seven million of its residents -- 71 percent -- are minorities, and one in every 14 of the nation's minority residents lives there. The county has the largest Hispanic population with 4.7 million residents, the largest Asian population with 1.4 million and the largest American Indian/Alaska Native population with 146,500 residents.

- Cook County (Chicago) has the nation's largest black population with 1.4 million residents.

- Orleans Parish (New Orleans), La., had the largest numeric increase in black population from 2006 to 2007 with 20,800. Neighboring St. Bernard Parish had the largest percentage increase with 97.3 percent.

- La Paz County, Ariz., home of the Colorado River Indian Reservation, has the country's oldest population, with 32 percent of its residents 65 or older. Webb County (Laredo), Texas, has the youngest population, with 12.8 percent of its population younger than 5.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau