Overview - Socioeconomic Profile
Socioeconomic Profile - Social
and Demographic Factors
Introduction | Social and
Demographic Factors | The Economy | Projected
The density of Rhode
Island's populationit is the most densely populated
state in New England and second in the nation behind New Jerseysuggests
intense human pressures on the environment. Despite its dense population,
more than half of Rhode Island's land is still forested
or in agricultural uses. This is because the vast majority of
Rhode Island's residents are concentrated in densely urbanized
areas, with more than 80 percent of residents living in its twenty
largest cities. In fact, one of every six Rhode Island residents
lives in Providence. Thus, despite the overall population density,
the concentration of the population in a few urban areas has left
a large proportion of the land that is relatively less impacted
by human development.
The population of Rhode
Island grew from fewer than 70,000 persons in 1790 to more than
1 million persons in 2000. The highest rate of growth occurred at
the height of Rhode Island's Industrial Period, from 1850
to 1910. The population grew fivefold during this 60-year period,
from just over 100,000 to almost 550,000, at an average annual rate
of 2.32 percent. Although the rate of growth declined in the Post-Industrial
period that began in about 1920, the population has
increased another 74 percent since that time.
|Agriculture accounts for about
seven percent of Rhode Island's land use and two percent of
its total employment.
The population growth that occurred in the twentieth century was
characterized by the spillover of urbanization into cities located
in traditionally rural counties. In 1900, three-fourths of Rhode
Island's population lived in Providence County. Most of the
state's industrialization and urbanization was concentrated
there. Bristol County was also densely populated, but the total
population wasn't great because of the county's small
size, which accounts for only three percent of the state's landmass.
The remaining three counties were much less densely populatedNewport
County because development was dominated by the resort community
and the naval presence, and Kent and Washington Counties because
of the dominance of agriculture. By the year 2000, over 85 percent
of the state's population still lived in urban areas, but
one-fourth lived in traditionally rural Kent and Washington Counties.
Bristol County was the state's most densely populated county,
with more than 2,000 persons per square mile, and Providence County
had 1,500 persons per square mile.
This growth, however, has resulted in the land
use conversion of about 25 percent of the state's forest
and agricultural land since 1970. A recent report from Rhode Island's
Statewide Planning Program (2000) states that,
[d]evelopment patterns over the past fifty to sixty years have
been characterized by diffuse residential construction, declining
forests and farmland, automobile centered transportation systems,
commercial strips and malls, and other land use patterns that
are commonly described as development sprawl. These patterns of
low-density scattered development, while beneficial in many respects,
have also exacted unintended social, environmental, and economic
Providence, with a 2000 population of 173,618, is by far the largest
city in Rhode Island, followed by Warwick (85,808), Cranston (79,269),
and Pawtucket (72,958). No other city has a population greater than
50,000. Warwick is the largest city in Kent County. South Kingstown
(27,921), Newport (26,475), and Bristol (22,469) are the largest
cities in Washington County, Newport, and Bristol counties, respectively.
The twenty largest cities
and towns in Rhode Island were home to 82 percent of the state's
In the year 2000, 15 percent of Rhode Island's
population was nonwhite. Providence County was home to 85 percent
of its nonwhite residents, with 50 percent living in Providence.
Providence had the largest nonwhite population (78,952), followed
by Pawtucket (17,954), Cranston (8,566), Central Falls (8,108),
and Woonsocket (7,289). All five of these cities are located in
Providence County. Blacks constitute the largest ethnic minority
in Rhode Island, constituting 30 percent of its nonwhite population
in the year 2000. Asians constitute another 15 percent, American
Indians 3 percent, and persons of other races 34 percent. Persons
of mixed race accounted for 18 percent of Rhode
Island's 2000 population.
Hispanics, including Latinos of all races, accounted
for 9 percent of Rhode Island's 2000 population. Central Falls
and Providence had the State's greatest concentration of Hispanics
in 2000, at 48 percent and 30 percent, respectively, followed by
Pawtucket at 14 percent, and Woonsocket at 9 percent.
In 1998, 10.6 percent of the population of Rhode Island had incomes
below the poverty level. This was the highest concentration of poverty
in any New England state, and is the result of very high concentration
of poor in Providence County.
Poverty throughout the rest of Rhode Island was lower than in any
New England state, taken as a whole.
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Rhode Island Statewide Planning Program. 2000. Rhode Island
land use trends and analysis (including land use surveys for the
period 1970-1995). Technical Paper Number 149. Rhode Island Department of Administration, Providence, Rhode Island.
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