Is Prince George's county growing more segregated?

Oct 31, 2011

Chat with Carol Morello and Ovetta Wiggins about how the most recent census indicates that Prince George's county is growing more segregated and why. Ask questions and submit your opinions now!

Hi, this is Carol Morello and welcome to our chat. Ovetta Wiggins and I are here to answer any questions about residential housing patterns in Prince George's County that became apparent in the 2010 Census.

I live in PG county, in a small town in the northeast corner. I moved there 26 years ago, because I could afford a nice house and because there was good public transit. The neighborhood was mixed when I moved in and has remained mixed. A couple of white families, several black families, a family from India by way of South America, a Philipino family. And that's just on my block. I felt that I practically had to defy my realtor to move there, even though I specified Mt. Rainier on my search; I don't know if he wanted to steer me to a 'white' neighborhood, but in PG that would hardly be possible. I love the diversity, I enjoy my neighbors - there are some great smells around here at dinner time! - and there have been few problems. A newer element in the mix is the addition of a number of gay families. I wish all PG were as blended as this. I think it's not healthy for children esp'ly to grow up only around "their own kind" - not for whites or blacks or anyone else.

There are a lot of these diverse neighborhoods in Prince George's County. Both in Prince George's and everywhere else in the region where these types of neighborhoods are becoming the norm, many of the residents celebrate the opportunity to live and raise their children in a multicultural environment. They aren't places in transition, but are becoming the new normal. 

In DC, I feel like many of the young people buying gentrifying neighborhoods do so because they first rented in downtown after graduating college and got used to the lifestyle. Does there seem to be any indication that young black, college-educated professionals are bucking this trend and preferring PG Co. or wards east of the river from the start of their careers?

We didn't look at ages for this story. But it's a good idea, maybe we'll delve into it in the future.

PG country is not a good place to live. Despite the large homes, poor public school and corrupt politicians. There are many legitimate reasons why PG country has no luxury department stores and upscale markets. The first month of 2011, there were 15 plus murders. Along with corrupt politicians come police that fail to characterize crimes in their proper categories. So please save the argument crime rates are down in the lowest rates since 1975, I m not buying it. Poorer residents from DC are being forced into PG county, due to DC s rising cost. Just a guess, but I m will to bet many of these folks are committing crimes.

Thanks for your comment. Prince George's has long struggled with low-performing schools, though test scores are increasing in recent years. And many residents (both black and white) often say that the schools are one of the reasons they leave the county. Officials are aware of this and are trying to address it so they can attract and retain residents and increase economic development.

I think the most important point is that the "segregation" is entirely by choice; both on the part of those who want to live in the neighborhoods and those who choose not to live there. In the past there was active exclusion of people who wanted to move to certain neighborhoods. To some degree that is still happening when the cry of "gentrification" goes up in areas where run down neighborhoods are revitalized. That bugs me but the fact that a lot of these McMansion neighborhoods in PG end up being largely African American doesn't seem like a problem. I am sure if a white or Asian family wanted to move to one of these neighborhoods , they would be welcomed. I still believe most people , regardless of background, see value in living in a diverse community. I grew up in the "old" PG county of the 50s and 60s and moved back there in the 2000s. For all its troubles, today's PG is clearly a better place.

You make a good point. We used the term "segregated" in the story because it is the word demographers use to describe a neighborhood that has a large number of residents of one race or ethnicity - in this case more than 85 percent. Based on our reporting, you are right.  A lot of this has to do with choice, at least that's what many of the people who we talked to said. 

Why are Hispanics and Asians deciding to move to almost all the other jurisdictions, but seem to shun Prince George's County. You would think they would be more open to living in a county where minorities run the local government?

Actually, there are a lot of Hispanics moving into Prince George's County. If it weren't for Hispanics, the county would hardly have grown at all over the past decade. But the census statistics show Hispanics are tending to cluster in areas where housing is more affordable. 

Very few Asians are moving into Prince George's. When we asked Asian leaders in the county why, the explanation was that for Asians the most important factor is education, and they prefer to live in counties where school test scores are higher than in Prince George's.

Presumably not all of the people moving into the new high-end developments in the eastern edge of PG County are African American. One would think that the new homebuyers would include at least a few contrarian (for lack of a better word) whites and Asians seeking relatively more bang for their housing buck. Did you encounter any such people in your reporting? (The three white P.G. residents quoted in today's article include one person living in a mixed neighborhood, a retiree, and one person treated summarily.) If so, do they like living in P.G.?

Certainly, there are white people moving into Prince George's, and a few (very few) Asians. You can buy a lot more house for your money in Prince George's than in other areas around the region. But the census stats show that county continues to lose white residents, so the new whites moving in are not enough to replace the white residents who are leaving. We focused our reporting on the neighborhoods where the census shows that 85 percent or more are one race, including some of the newest developments in the region. 

My godparents have lived for the past 30 yrs in PG. They raised three boys in Oxon Hill and sent them to public school, where they were tracked into the science & tech magnet program in high school. They stayed out of trouble and were all nominally great students (3.7 GPAs: this detail provided in annual Xmas letters to my family's great amusement) and two of them went to Va Tech where they promptly dropped out because they couldn't handle the workload. The third took a long time to find his feet but did get a degree. And this was in the late '80s. I can only imagine what academic standards are like now. My godfather says some astonishing things at times but one thing he is NOT is racist. Yet I think that as they grew older they did get tired of the hassles that are stereotypically associated with living in diverse communities (loud cars, late-night police attendance at neighbors' houses, and so forth). One could hardly begrudge them from picking up sticks 10 yrs ago and moving to a development in Marlton (Upper Marlboro) where frankly everyone is white. I wonder whether it is because we as a society are less involved in our neighbors' behavior (with its pluses and minuses) that makes it easier to slot into a non-diverse neighborhood than it is to try to make it work in a diverse one.

I visited a lot of neighborhoods throughout the region that exemplify what have been called global neighborhoods, with a broad diversity of people who are black, white, Asian and Hispanic. In most of them, people had similar incomes and educations, and sent their kids to the same schools, and race/ethnicity was one of the only ways in which they were different. The only issues anyone ever mentioned was the occasional neighbor-to-neighbor spat over off street parking. But otherwise, diversity was seen as an asset, not a harbinger of hassles.

Five years ago, a lot of PG Cty green space was being plowed under to build new developments. And for a while, it was a hotbed of foreclosure scams, like that woman who had the $80,000 wedding at the Mayflower. But more recent data are showing that the DC area is the nation's #1 economy now, and just yesterday Yahoo news had a story that Maryland now has the most millionaires per capita in the country. Did PGCo actually parlay the housing boom into attracting a lot of well-off residents?

Thanks for your question. Prince George's County has been a magnet for successful middle-class residents for decades. While the story does not specifically address the housing boom, Prince George's has seen an increase in the number of estate homes sold in the last five years. The development that was featured in today's story is new (actually still under construction) and is filled with what you would call well-off residents who are new to the county.

How come, with the semi-exception of Greenbelt, PG County hasn't developed any true suburban downtown hubs, like Rosslyn, Crystal City, Silver Sping or Bethesda?

While this was not part of the story on the county's demographics, you raise a point that is being addressed by the local elected officials. The county has 15 Metro stations with undeveloped land around them. County Executive Rushern L. Baker and the county council are working to spur development around those stations, including New Carrollton. The county has also seen a lot of growth in downtown Hyattsville. Baker says that this growth is likely to increase diversity in the county.

when people say things about how one should grow up in a diverse area. I mean, that's what I've chosen for me and my family, because my husband and I think it's best, but WHY? my parents chose where they chose for my family growing up precisely because it was NOT diverse. It was incredibly Jewish, and they wanted to be in a jewish area...AND my mom wanted us to grow up in a place where 98% of the students from the high school went to college (My parents never went). So it was most definitely NOT diverse and I had to learn as an adult that not everyone *is* jewish! Why is that wrong?

In our stories, we didn't characterize enclaves as either right or wrong. We described the ways that neighborhoods are changing, and becoming more diverse, throughout most of the region and in metropolitan areas throughout the country. It's clear from looking at historical data that these kinds of diverse neighborhoods are going to become more common, not less. Hispanics and Asians, the two fastest growing groups in the country, both are younger and have higher birth rates than blacks or whites, both of which are growing older as a group. There will likely always be enclaves, but there are now more neighborhoods that have lots of different people living in them.

You used to cover Philadephia. There was an article several years ago claiming that Philadelphia is the most segregate city in America. From you observations, how segregated did you find Philadelphia, and how would you come the degree and type of segregation found in Philadelphia to the degree and type of segregation found in Prince George's County?

I spent a large chunk of my career working for the Philadelphia Inquirer, but I spent most of that time working out of the city, out of the state or out of the country, so I'm no expert on Philly. But off the top of my head, I think comparing Philadelphia to Prince George's is apples and oranges. Philadephia s a large city that has struggled to keep population and jobs. Prince George's is a growing county, with a national reputation that draws middle class African Americans from around the region and around the country. Very different, in my view.

Would it be possible to do a followup graphic with income and crime overlaid along with race? I think that would be a very interesting and controversial look at DC.

The topics of crime, race and income are repeated topics of coverage, particularly in the District. Perhaps it's due to the volume of coverage we've done that you feel familiar with the subject. Some readers complain that we overdo our coverage of crime, particularly in predominantly black areas, so you're asking for more of what some think we already do too much of. Our focus was on demographics as illustrated by the census, not police statistics.

I disagree with the poster who said "stereotypically associated with living in diverse communities." I live on a block with 2 Indian, 1Iranian, 2 African, 5 African-American, 3 White households. this odd lot includes 2 single mothers with children, and 1 gay couple. We don't have the problems the poster thinks are associated with diversity. That said I live in Montgomery country and avoid even driving in PG country, two encounters with PG's finest.

In my experience talking with people who live in neighborhoods like yours, I think most residents would agree with you.

With apologies to Carol, but this is about PGC in general. Why has the county done so poorly marketed its cultural resources? If the Patuxent Wildlife Center, Blandensburg Waterfront Park, Fort Washington or Eagle Harbor were in Montgomery County, they'd be overrun with tourists every weekend. Why not in PG?

This is probably a better question for the county's tourism department. Possibly if others see some of the areas that you mention the county can attract more tourists and other residents.

say anything was right or wrong, but the first poster indicated something along those lines. also, I *can* be classified as hispanic, but that always feels wrong to me (and yes, my grandmother spoke a dialect of spanish). So, um, all this classifying is kind of really not seeming to be the best thing...we seem to spend a lot of time and energy on it, but what is the reasoning behind it?

Everybody essentially self-classifies when they fill out their census forms. And it has changed over the decades. Early in the 20th Century, for example, people descended from different European nations were classified different races, now they're just mostly white. 

The census has begun offering the option of marking down multiple races. In many cases, the results are from people who previously had to choose one, and now are recognizing their complete heritage. 


The census forms the basis for a lot of policy and government spending decisions, so the statistics can help show if one particular group has more of a need than another.

Through much of the 90s, I lived in the College Park-Greenbelt area, and Beltway Plaza was one of my common destinations. I now live a little north of there, but I've been to that plaza ONCE in ten years. There stores, and frankly, the shoppers, aren't really among whom I want to spend any spare time shopping. Are there any other examples of places whose retail presence reflects obvious demographic change?

I'm sure there are many. 

In Ashburn, for example, there's a relatively new, Korean-owned supermarket in a plaza where there used to be a Shoppers Market. In Prince William County, there's a Hispanic supermarket where there used to be, I think, a Giant. And in many of the shopping centers dotting Loudoun County, there are lots of small shops where you can buy Indian spices and Asian videos.

Thanks so much for joining us. We've enjoyed chatting with you and taking your questions.

In This Chat
Carol Morello
Carol Morello, a native of Michigan, is a journalism school graduate of Michigan State University and the University of Southern California. She came to the Washington Post in 2000, after spending more than decade at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she covered off-the-beaten-track Pennsylvania, Central America, the Middle East and the West Coast, and two years at USA Today. At the Post, she has worked as a reporter in Virginia and as an assistant editor on the city desk. She writes about the census and demographics, and loves telling stories about changes in the way we live our lives.
Ovetta Wiggins
Ovetta Wiggins covers development in Prince George's County. She came to The Washington Post in 2003, covering government and politics in the county. Over the last several years, she has written about the rise and fall of former County Executive Jack B. Johnson, the foreclosure crisis in Maryland and the region's changing landscape. Wiggins holds a bachelor's degree in English from Rutgers University and previously worked as a statehouse correspondent at The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Bergen Record.
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