A quarter of Sonoma County's 483,878 residents are Latino, a burgeoning group that grew by 40,912 people in the past 10 years, according to data from the 2010 Census released Tuesday.
The 52 percent growth of the Latino population — 79,511 to 120,430 — was in stark contrast to the county's white population, which dropped 6.3 percent from 341,686 people in 2000 to 320,027 residents in 2010.
Those drops helped fuel overall population decreases in Rohnert Park and Sebastopol, and only modest population gains in all but Cloverdale, which grew by 26 percent.
The county's overall population grew by 5.5 percent from 2000 to 2010, much smaller growth than the county's 18.1 percent growth during the 1990s.
“We are becoming more ethnically diverse, specifically in terms of (Latinos), which means our demography for consumer demand and our pool of labor is evolving along those lines,” said Robert Eyler, director of Sonoma State University's Center for Regional Economic Analysis.
The data from the 2010 decennial census count is the latest to be released by the federal government, which is rolling out information state by state.
The growth in Sonoma County's Latino population outpaced the ethnic group's statewide growth of 27.8 percent from 2000 to 2010. Also, the state's white population actually grew by 6.4 percent, compared to an almost equal percentage decline in Sonoma County.
There were 37,253,956 people living in California in April, 2010, when the census count was conducted, with more than half the children in the state now Latino.
The results confirm what locals already know; the Latino population, driven largely by its younger population, is an integral part of Sonoma County and will continue to be.
“It's visible. You see it on the streets, you see it in the stores,” said Salvador Perez, 30, who left Mexico for Santa Rosa with his family in 2001.
A clue to what's behind the current population trends in Sonoma County is found in annual population estimates from both the California Department of Finance and the census bureau.