The ethnic makeup of Utah's population is becoming more diverse, according to estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

But the growth in diversity of counties across the nation is far outpacing Utah's. According to the bureau's estimates, 302 counties in the U.S. are defined as "majority-minority" communities, meaning more than 50 percent of each county's residents are estimated to be members of an ethnic minority. One out of every 10 counties in the United States now has a population where more than half the residents are an ethnic minority.

Only one county in Utah, San Juan, is a majority-minority community.

Majority-minority counties with a minority population of 1 million or more include Los Angeles; Houston; the Bronx, N.Y.; and Miami-Dade, Fla., according to the bureau's estimates. The bureau estimated these changes in population by comparing the census data compiled in 2000 to annual data on births, deaths and international and national migration through subsequent years.

The nation has been moving along this trend for some time now, said Juliette Tennert, manager of demographics and economic analysis for Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

Tennert said Utah has historically ranked among the top states with a dominant white population at 35th, but the state's growth in minority populations is above the average.

"While the proportion of ethnic minorities in Utah is increasing in every county, the stats are not approaching levels near the 'majority-minority' county definition," Tennert said. "In becoming more diverse, Utah is looking more and more like the nation, though."

San Juan County is the most ethnically diverse county in Utah with 60.2 percent of residents estimated to be ethnic minorities. The Navajo Nation is located in the area so representation is particularly high, analysts said.

Salt Lake County was estimated to be the second-most ethnically diverse county in the state with 23.5 percent, or 236,939 total minority population. In 2000, 18.6 percent of the population identified among ethnic-minority groups.

In Weber County 20.2 percent of the population is estimated to be in an ethnic minority, up from 17 percent of those who self-identified in 2000 in a group other than non-Hispanic white.

"The fact that diversity is growing is a positive thing in our view," Tennert said. "We all have a lot to learn and gain by living with people of a different background."

"Salt Lake County contains over half of Utah's minority population," said Pamela Perlich, senior research economist for the University of Utah. "The county will have more challenges in learning how to accommodate the cultural, ethnic and age differences among its people."

Perlich said public officials will have to begin discovering ways to build communities that bring diverse and "typical" Utahns together through educational, medical and economic means. The youth may already be adapting to more ethnically diverse environments as some school districts, such as Salt Lake City, have become majority-minority. In comparison, estimates predict that fewer than 10 percent of seniors are minorities.

As a result of a 1990s immigration boom that lasted until the early 2000s, a significant portion of Utah's minority population is in the prime-working ages between 25 and 39, according to estimates of age and race from the Census Bureau. Perlich said that most of the ethnic-minority growth in Utah has come from these workers having children.

"Nationally the growth of the Hispanic population is being driven by natural increase rather than immigration, and in Utah, it is beginning to trend that way as well," Perlich said.


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