The Shifting Landscape of Diversity in Metro America


Census 2010 gave the detail behind what we’ve known for some time: America is becoming an increasingly diverse place.  Not only has the number of minorities simply grown nationally, but the distribution of them among America’s cities has changed. Not all of the growth was evenly spread or did it occur only in traditional ethnic hubs or large, historically diverse cities.

To illustrate this, I created maps of U.S. metro areas showing their change in location quotient. Location quotient (LQ) measures the concentration of something in a local area relative to its concentration nationally. This is commonly used for identifying economic clusters, such as by comparing the percentage of employment in a particular industry locally vs. its overall national percentage. In a location quotient, a value of 1.0 indicates a concentration exactly equal to the US average, a value greater than 1.0 indicates a concentration greater than the US average, and a value less than 1.0 indicates a concentration less than the US average.

While commonly used for economic analysis, the math works for many other things. It can be useful to measure how the concentration of particular values changes over time relative to the national average.  In this case, we will examine the change in LQ for various ethnic groups between the 2000 and 2010 censuses for metro areas. Those metro areas with a positive change in LQ grew more concentrated in that ethnic group compared to the US average over the last decade. Those with a negative change in LQ grew less concentrated compared to the nation as a whole, even if they grew total population in that ethnic group.

To increase concentration level requires growing at a faster percentage than the US as a whole. This is obviously easier for places that start from a low base than those with a high base. In this light, places that have traditionally been ethnic hubs – such as west coast metros for Asians – can grow less concentrated relative to the nation as a whole even if they continue to add a particular ethnic group. Asian population, for example, can grow strongly in California, but at a slower rate than the rest of the country. This is indeed the case as groups like Hispanics and Asians have been de-concentrating from the west coast, and now are showing up in material numbers even in the Heartland.

Black Population

Black Only Population, Change in Location Quotient 2000-2010

The change in Black concentration is particularly revealing. Much has been written about the so-called reversing of the Great Migration. But contrary to media reports, there is no clear monolithic move from North to South. Instead, we see that the outflow has been disproportionately from America’s large tier one metros like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In contrast, Northern cities like Indianapolis, Columbus, and even Minneapolis-St. Paul (home to a large African immigrant community) grew Black population strongly, and actually increased their Black concentrations. Similarly, there were clearly preferred metro destinations in South for Blacks, like Atlanta and Charlotte. Many other Southern metros , particularly those along the Atlantic coast of Georgia and the Carolinas continued to lose their appeal to Blacks, relatively speaking.

Hispanic Population

Hispanic Population (of any race), Change in Location Quotient 2000-2010

Here we see de-concentration clearly in action. The Mexican border regions retained high Hispanic population counts, but they are no longer as dominant as in the past. Places like Nashville, Oklahoma City, and Charlotte particularly stand out for increasing Hispanic population percentage. Again, large traditionally diverse tier one cities like New York and Chicago show declines on this measure as smaller cities are now more in on the diversity game.

Asian Population

Asian Only Population, Change in Location Quotient 2000-2010

Again, we see here that America’s Asian population spread well beyond traditional west coast bastions. There were big increases in Asian population counts, with resulting LQ changes, in places like Atlanta, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and Boston. Even New York (which now has over one million Asian residents within the city limits alone) and Chicago showed gains among Asians.

Children (Population Under Age 18)

As a bonus, here is a look at LQ change for metro areas for people under the age of 18.

Children (Population Under Age 18), Change in Location Quotient 2000-2010

Here we see that metros along America’s northern tier now have relatively fewer children than a decade ago, while metros like Denver, Dallas, and Nashville had more. Clearly, some places are increasingly seen as better – and perhaps also more affordable – locations for child rearing than others.  Perhaps unsurprisingly many of the out of favor locales are either expensive, have poor economic prospects, and/or are excessively cold. Not surprisingly, for example, Atlanta, Houston and Florida’s west coast have gained in this demographic while much of the Northeast, particularly upstate New York, have lost out.

The overall key is while there are certain broad themes that emerge from the recent Census, such as America’s increasing diversity or signs of a reversing of the Great Migration, we need to take a more fine grained view to see which places are in fact benefitting and being hurt by these trends.  What we see here is that traditional large urban bastions of black population and ethnic diversity are no longer the only game in town. Smaller places in the interior and the South are now emerging as diversity magnets in their own right, as well as magnets for families with children. This is the collection of places to watch to look for the next set of great American cities to emerge.

Aaron M. Renn is an independent writer on urban affairs based in the Midwest. His writings appear at The Urbanophile. Telestrian was used to analyze data and to create maps for this piece.

Note: The original version of this piece included incorrect charts for the Asian, Hispanic, and child measures.