Fun with (census) numbers


I was over in Colorado's Roaring Fork Valley this weekend, drinking a beer and soaking up the spring sunshine, when I noticed a headline -- front page, above the fold -- blaring from a newspaper box on the sidewalk: HISPANIC POPULATION GROWS.

Oh c'mon, I thought, is this really news? No, it isn't. But then again, it is, sort of, because the results of the 2010 census have recently turned this bit of conventional wisdom into official fact. And the numbers the census delivers do have important implications for things like the distribution of government grants and political redistricting. Plus, my cynicism aside, the growth of the hispanic population over the last 10 years has actually been quite remarkable: It's expanded by 43 percent, and hispanics now make up about 16 percent of the overall U.S. population. Interestingly, there's evidence that "the growth was propelled by a surge in births in the U.S., rather than immigration, pointing to a growing generational shift," according to the L.A. Times.

census mapNow that we really know what we already more or less knew, here are some interesting factoids about our changing region gleaned from the census that are a bit less obvious:

Ogden, Utah has better income equality than any city in the nation, meaning wealth is more evenly distributed between its residents than anywhere else. This is likely related to the economic renaissance Ogden has experienced under outgoing mayor Matthew Godfrey, who has aggressively promoted the city's now bustling recreation-based economy. In fact, the Wasatch Front's metro areas have all grown quite heartily in the last decade, and not just because of Utah's "unusually high birth rate," says the Deseret News. The paper attributes the growth to business friendly policies, livability and jobs.

Screenshot above shows a New York Times map of changes in vacant housing units since 2000. Darker blue denotes a greater increase in vacant units; darker yellow denotes a greater decline.San Diego and Las Vegas are among 46 U.S. cities that now have non-white majorities. In California, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona, white children are now in the minority among the under-18 population.

Portland, Ore., meanwhile, became whiter. Gentrification pushed "nearly 10,000 people of color, mostly African Americans," out of the city's central neighborhoods to areas with few grocery stores, parks, transit options and other public services, according to The Oregonian. Seattle is also relatively homogenous -- it's the fifth whitest city in the U.S.

In Washington state, casino jobs are driving population growth on reservations, according to the Seattle Times. On the Suquamish reservation growth hit 47 percent; statewide, it was about 10 percent. While the bump may in part reflect a greater effort to count those living on the rez last year, "for Washington tribes, the uptick in population is a tiny reversal of history," writes the Times.

A number of southern California cities posted little growth, or even lost residents. At least that's what census figures show. But Santa Ana mayor Miguel Pulido suspects they're skewed by low census response rates by immigrants. He plans to challenge the results, as do some other SoCal cities that fear low population estimates will impact the amount of state and federal funding and grants they receive.

"Arizona overbuilt during housing boom." This headline, like those declaring the presence of more Latinos in the U.S., is not exactly news. But the census did provide new information on just how much the sprawl-happy state overshot. According to the Arizona Republic the state added 30 percent more housing units in the last decade, while its population grew by only 25 percent. And since each Arizona unit typically shelters three people, population growth would have had to be about three times that of housing for the rates to justify one another. Which means Arizona way overbuilt.

Did the census shed light on surprising demographic changes in your neck of the woods? Post in comments section below.

Cally Carswell is HCN's assistant editor.

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