December 15, 2010 | Times Tribune | Original Article

Census shows region's population diversifying as it declines

The population of Lackawanna County continues to shrink yet diversify, according to U.S. Census estimates released Tuesday.

The data also reveal more households relying on food stamps, a decline in home values and more people earning a college education.

Scranton, which has been hemorrhaging for decades, actually gained 433 people.

The new estimates are from a five-year American Community Survey through 2009. Typically, the federal government has released one-year and three-year surveys, the last of which covered 2006 to 2008.

The surveys are separate from the 2010 census, which counts the population and records basic demographic information. By comparison, these estimates rely on smaller sample sizes but more richly describe communities, from major cities to tiny villages.

The five-year survey reports on categories including social, economic, housing and demographics characteristics.

As a whole, the population of Northeast Pennsylvania declined by only seven-hundredths of a percent. Lackawanna County contracted by 0.04 percent to 209,100 and there were similar losses in Monroe, Wayne and Pike counties after years of meteoric growth.

Luzerne, Wyoming and Susquehanna counties all experienced small gains.

Where Lackawanna County gained was in diversity.

The black and Hispanic populations increased by 12.6 and 2.8 percent, respectively. Although both make up a fraction of the overwhelmingly white county, that brings the number of blacks to 5,321 and Hispanics to 6,239. The number of foreign-born county residents was estimated at 7,428, a 12.2 percent increase from the last census survey.

The data seem to indicate the county's Hispanic population is spreading out from Scranton, since although the community grew overall, it declined in the city by 2.2 percent to 4,127.

Looking south, Luzerne County's Hispanic population has more than tripled this decade - from 3,713 to an estimated 12,362 - while the black population has grown from 5,408 to 8,787, according to the survey.

The growth of Hazleton's Hispanic community, the largest among Luzerne County cities, has been of particular note. The survey found that 5,207 - or 23.8 percent - of the city's estimated 21,853 people are Hispanic or Latino, more than four times higher than in 2000.

The growth stems from increased migration from cities such as New York and Philadelphia, said Teri Ooms, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development. Once settled, those in the Latino community tend to build strong family roots, she said.

"It isn't surprising that we're seeing those kinds of changes," Ms. Ooms said of the county's changing demographics. "I think that is a trend that is emerging in our region, and we're going to be seeing that increasing from this point forward."

In Scranton, the city's estimated population increased by 0.6 percent from 72,026 to 72,459. The estimates show the city's number of residents over 65 decreasing by 4.1 percent while the under-25 demographic increased by 1.8 percent.

In both the city and the county, the median household income went up between the 2006-08 and 2005-09 surveys, respectively by 4 percent and 1.6 percent. This while the median household income went down by little more than 1 percent both nationally and statewide.

But the county had several ominous economic indicators, too. The number of households using food stamps within the past 12 months increased by 8.1 percent, reaching a total of 7,962. Meanwhile, the median value of owner-occupied homes declined by 2.1 percent to $129,600.

The percentage of people living in poverty in Lackawanna County inched upward to 13.4 from 13.1 percent. In Scranton, 19.2 percent of the city was estimated to be in poverty, compared with 18.8 percent in the last survey.

In the category of education, 21,712 people in the county now have at most a bachelor's degree, an increase of 6.2 percent. The number of people over 25 with either a graduate or professional degree increased by 0.4 percent.