CONCORD, N.H. — Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire remain among the whitest states in the country, but just as they are elsewhere, Hispanics and other minorities are becoming the major drivers of population growth in northern New England.
New census estimates show the minority population growing to 5.1 percent in Maine and Vermont between 2000 and July 2009 and to 7.2 percent in New Hampshire. The increase in minorities accounted for 73 percent of Vermont’s population growth during that time, compared with 56 percent in Maine and 43 percent in New Hampshire.
Those figures are consistent with the national picture, which shows a steadily rising minority population, said demographer Kenneth Johnson of the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute.
“Even in states that are so heavily non-Hispanic white, the role of the minority populations in the growth in states in recent years is significant in each case,” he said. “They’re certainly disproportionate to the amount of people there are in the states.”
Hispanics are the largest minority in northern New England. And the rise in the minority population nationally is due to sharp recent increases in births, especially among Hispanics.
In New Hampshire, for example, minorities make up 5.9 percent of the population over the age of 20 and 11 percent of residents under age 20.
“The minority populations are sort of changing the states from the bottom up,” Johnson said. “Places like schools are going to face this first.”
Among racial and ethnic groups, Hispanics grew by 95 percent to 18,300 in Maine. New Hampshire’s Hispanic population grew nearly 80 percent to 36,900, and Vermont’s Hispanic population grew 67 percent to 5,500.
The large percentage gains come on tiny population bases in small states, however. Maine and New Hampshire’s 2009 populations were about 1.3 million each; Vermont’s was about 622,000.
New Hampshire’s minority populations are concentrated in the most urban area — Hillsborough County, home to about 30 percent of the state’s total population but 50 percent of the minority population. That also is in line with the national trend, Johnson said.
“Although the United States as a whole is becoming more diverse, it’s very spatially uneven what’s going on,” he said.
Maine, the whitest state in the country a decade ago, now shares the top spot with Vermont, according to the 2009 figures. New Hampshire, which used to be the third whitest, has fallen to fourth, behind West Virginia.
Results from the official 2010 head count will be published beginning in late December.