Montana becomes more colorful

According to data released last week by the U.S. Census, Montana's complexion is changing.

"The minority population grew almost three times as fast as the entire state population," says U.S. Census spokesman Robert Bernstein.

Montana is now home to 989,415 people, reflecting a 9.7 percent increase in the population between 2000 and 2010. During the same time period, minority populations grew from 94,312 to more than 120,000, a 28 percent increase since 2000.

The American Indians and Alaska Natives demographic, which constitutes the state's largest minority group, grew by 11.6 percent to 62,555 and now comprises 6.3 percent of Montana's overall population.

But Montana's Hispanic population grew even faster. The state's Hispanic and Latino population—defined as those with Mexican, Spanish, Cuban, Puerto Rican and Central or South American roots—grew by 10,000, a 58 percent increase. The spike reflects national trends.

"In fast growing western and southern states, like Nevada, Arizona, and Virginia, where whites or blacks dominated past growth, Hispanics are now the greatest growth engine," notes William H. Frey, a senior fellow and demographer with the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.

Even with the significant population gains, Hispanics and Latinos represent only 2.9 percent of Montana's ethnic makeup. Similarly, while the state's African-American population now stands at 4,027, black people represent just 0.4 percent of Montana's population.

"The African-American population grew by almost 50 percent," Bernstein says. "Granted, it started from a really small base."

Montana's multi-racial population grew by 35 percent. And Asians, too, are increasingly making homes under the Big Sky, with 33 percent more Asians living here now than in 2000, though they only constitute 0.6 percent of the state's population.

In Missoula, meanwhile, minorities make up 9 percent of the county's 109,299. That's up from 6.9 percent in 2000. Locally, American Indians, Hispanics and multi-racial individuals each represent 2.6 percent of the countywide population.

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