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Jacksonville on the cusp of becoming minority-majority city

December 23, 2018

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Out of the country’s 15 largest cities, only two were majority white in 2017: Columbus, Ohio, and Jacksonville. But that’s about to change.

Jacksonville is in the midst of a demographic shift as white residents leave and the non-white population flourishes.

In 2008, only 42 percent of the city was non-white. Nine years later, in 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey found that 49 percent was. 2018?s data won’t come out until next year, but it’s possible that Jacksonville has already crossed the threshold thanks to the city’s growing black, Hispanic and Asian populations.

There were 15,400 fewer white people in 2017 compared to 2008, 32,400 more African-Americans, 36,100 more Latinos and 18,600 more Asians. In the county as a whole, which includes the Beaches and Baldwin, there were about 6,300 fewer white people and 93,000 more non-white people. The county was still about 53 percent non-Hispanic white.

Krista Paulsen, an urban sociologist at the University of North Florida, said that when cities see minority populations grow, their needs change.

For example, how public space is used can vary by racial group, she said. Conflict has arisen in cities when white residents have responded with hostility to minority groups who might be more community-minded than previous residents.

Growing minority populations, she said, might be more likely to need a more robust public transportation system, more public parks and schools that are equipped to teach students who are learning English as a second language. Because changing demographics isn’t always obvious, sometimes needs go unmet.

For example, in November’s election, Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan was found to have violated a federal court order by not providing Spanish-language sample ballots at early-voting sites.

The growing diversity can also impact a community’s culture, food and politics.

One area where this is most clearly seen is on Baymeadows Road by I-95. About one in five people in the neighborhood is Asian, and the stores and restaurants around there reflect that reality.

Similarly, near Powers and St. Augustine roads, where nearly 19 percent of residents are Hispanic, cash checking stores, barber shops and tax preparers advertise bilingually.

“Soy la abogada Gabriela Narvaez, sera un placer asistirle en SU idioma,” reads one sign. I am the attorney Gabriela Narvaez, it says. It will be a pleasure to assist you in YOUR language

Narvaez, a Cuban-Mexican immigrant herself who grew up in Jacksonville, moved her law office to the shopping strip off Dupont Avenue about two years ago hoping to pick up some foot traffic from people visiting the Spanish-language businesses in the area: the laundromat, the convenience store, the restaurant and the barber shop. Now she gets so many people stopping by that she more often than not works from home to avoid distraction.

“We have a good support system here,” she said. “Twenty-two years ago, it looked very different.” For one thing, she said a lot of businesses were more likely to advertise themselves as Latino, but now they can cater to migrants from specific regions, whether it’s the Honduran restaurant down the road, the Puerto Rican barbershop or the Colombian breakfast spot.

Paulsen said she was surprised that despite Jacksonville’s steadily growing population that there are fewer white people in Jacksonville in 2017 than in 2008. Part of that might be because of migration to suburban counties where school districts are graded higher by the state. The average annual net migration from Duval to St. Johns, Clay or Nassau from 2011 to 2015 was 3,600 people. While those counties are growing almost entirely thanks to migration from other American communities, Jacksonville’s growth is largely due to international migration and births outpacing deaths.

One-third of Jacksonville’s cumulative growth from 2010 to 2017 was thanks to international migration, and almost 50 percent was due to the many more births than deaths. In St. Johns County, for comparison, 92 percent of its growth came from people moving there from other parts of America, including Duval.

While in Jacksonville the non-white population is the only one that’s growing, in St. Johns County, one of the fastest growing counties in the state, three-quarters of its growth from 2010 to 2017 came from white residents.

To some extent, Paulsen said, people who have the means might be choosing to segregate themselves into homogeneous communities.

Paulsen noted that demographic shifts can at first be invisible in a city like Jacksonville where people aren’t living in the sort of dense neighborhoods like mega-cities and where the shift between urban and suburban can occur within the city limits.

“This older model we have of an immigrant enclave like the Lower East Side of Manhattan where people are able to meet their needs in a few block radius, that’s not the reality any more,” she said. “We know that suburbs are becoming more diverse. Here in Jacksonville, it’s a little more complex because these communities that spatially are suburban are part of our city.

One effect might be Duval County’s recent shift toward Democrats in the 2016 and 2018 elections as the voting population has changed. In 2015, when Republican Mayor Lenny Curry was elected, 61 percent of Duval’s registered voters were white. In November’s election, when three Democratic statewide candidates won the county, 59 percent were.

The growing minority population’s voting power, however, is muted by several factors. Up until November’s election approved a state constitutional change to restore voting rights to people with felony convictions, black residents were disproportionately disenfranchised. Immigrants who aren’t U.S. citizens also can’t vote in Florida. And the elections for citywide office are held by the county’s population, which includes the Beaches and Baldwin. The people who live in the parts of the county outside Jacksonville are 90 percent white and those cities have higher voter turnouts.

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Information from: The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, http://www.jacksonville.com

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