Alexandria just "ain't what she used to be." Or is it all in the eye of the beholder?
That was the message and question brought to the Old Town Civic Association (OTCA) at its October meeting last week by Dr. Kenneth Billingsley. Using 2000 Census data just released, he dispelled many common misconceptions of just what comprises Alexandria at the beginning of the 21st century.
As director of Information and Demographic Studies, Northern Virginia Regional Commission, Billingsley is the author of numerous demographic studies, including, "The New Northern Virginians" and "Demographic Trends That Will Shape Northern Virginia."
Billingsley noted that "70 percent of the growth in Alexandria between the 1990 and 2000 census periods was in the West End of the city. We added 17,000 people in that 10-year period, and 85 percent of that was in minorities and foreign-born."
Alexandria has one of the highest population turnover rates in the nation, according to Billingsley. "We live in one of the country's most vibrant gateways. Our demographics are very similar to those of Manhattan," he said.
"Most immigrants in Alexandria are not citizens. Most are recent arrivals. We tend to get people who are new to the country," he insisted.
BILLINGSLEY CITED the major changes in the city between 1970 and 1990 as a prelude to those between 1990 and 2000. Between 1970 and 1990 there was a total reconfiguration of the city, and "it happened in a period of population stability," he said. Some of those benchmarks included the following:
* An increase of only 249 people, but a huge drop in childbirths and teen-age children;
* One-fifth of the existing population were non-Hispanic whites;
* By 1990 the city had become a complex mix of urban/suburban.
"During the 1990s we crossed the Quaker Lane divide in city growth. And, one in every three moving into the West End has been foreign born. Our immigrant population is one of the most diverse in Northern Virginia," Billingsley explained.
"Ninety percent of all immigrants coming to this area choose to live in the suburbs rather than the core city. But the average Alexandria resident lives here less than five years," he noted.
However, in some ways Alexandria retains many of its previous characteristics, according to Billingley's read of the 2000 Census data.
* Its population retains its distinction as one of the most affluent and best-educated in Northern Virginia.
* One in six of the residents has a graduate degree. Only six other locales can claim this distinction.
BUT ON THE FLIP SIDE are these characteristics:
* Poverty in the city rose from 7 percent to 9 percent in the ‘90s;
* School-age children living below the poverty level rose 14 percent in the same decade;
* Alexandria has the largest concentration of poor in Northern Virginia.
As part of his presentation, Billingsley distributed a composite of some of the data released by the Census Bureau pertaining to Alexandria. It included the following information:
* From 1970-80, Alexandria saw a drop in population of 7,721. That was recouped in the next decade and then soared in the 1990s by 17,100 to its present 128,283, a 15.4-percent increase. Seventy percent of that, or 11,878, settled in the West End, as compared with only 5,222 in the East End;
* The number of foreign-born went from just under 18,000 in 1990 to 32,000 in 2000. And they literally came from all over the world. But by far the largest came from El Salvador, at 18 percent, followed by Ethiopia at 7.5 percent. This was followed by Honduras and Ghana, both at 4.4 percent, and Korea at 3.6 percent. Immigrants from El Salvador are the highest in each of the other three neighboring jurisdictions of Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties;
* A foreign language is now spoken in almost a third of Alexandria homes, but English remains the only language spoken in 70 percent of Alexandria households. Spanish or Spanish Creole is next, in 14.4 percent;
* During the 1990 to 2000 decade, the white, non-Hispanic population declined from 64.3 percent to 53.7 percent of the total. In the same time span, the Hispanic population grew by 14.7 percent, and the Asian population by 5.7 percent;
* One in five households reported an income of $100,000 or more. At the same time, there was a widening of the haves and have-nots. Those households with less than $30,000 were Blacks - 36.1 percent; Hispanics - 31 percent; and non-Hispanic whites - 6.6 percent. Those with more than $100,000 in the same categories were 11.1 percent, 9.2 percent and 51.3 percent, respectively;
* The size of the average household has changed dramatically. In 1950 it was 3.29. Today it is 2.04. In the same time period, the single-person household has gone from 12.5 percent to 43.4 percent. Households with children under 18 in 1960 stood at 45.2 percent, while today they account for only 20.5 percent. But this is an increase from the low of 19 percent 10 years ago. Non-family households over the past 40 years has gone from 16 percent to 55.2 percent.
* By age groups, Alexandria's population is overwhelmingly in the bracket between 30 and 59. The largest shift has been in the 50-54 age bracket, which had an increase of 3,732 over the past decade. This characteristic applied to all racial and ethnic groups with only slight variations.
"Behind all these statistics lay some very complex elements," Billingsley cautioned. "I hope to have them analyzed in the near future."
One questioner zeroed in on the pivotal issue. "Will you be able to evaluate Old Town vs. Alexandria?" he was asked.
"I'm working on it," Billingsley answered.