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Monday, April 4, 2011

3 Census stories to view with a critical eye

In case you haven't heard, the 2010 Census data for NYC has been released, and DCP is letting you satisfy your census jones here . As always, big props to Joe Salvo and the true pros at the DCP Population Division for a super-quick turnaround. Perusing the data, I'm getting a good idea of stories that are going to come out of this. The big one is the undercount of course, which has dominated the initial reaction. Here are three others that are likely to come (or that have come already), how they'll be spun, and what you should know about them that might not be told.

"The black population has declined for the first time since the Civil War."

The spin: This will probably be presented in a gentrification narrative: white people moving into Harlem and parts of Brooklyn, displacing older black residents, or might be presented with a "black people are moving back to the south" angle.

What you need to know. The African-American population - by which I mean black people generally with roots in the Southern States of the US who came to New York during the great migration - has been declining in New York for 30 years. The reason the black population has grown slightly during this time is because of the influx of Afro-Caribbean immigrants, and (to a much lesser extent), African immigrants. The reason for the overall population decline in the black community has a lot to do with the decrease in immigration (and undercount) in the Afro-Caribbean community and the increasing suburbanization of the community.

"The white population of Brooklyn has increased for the first time since WWII."

The spin: Again, this will probably be presented as a gentrification narrative: educated, working-age white people from Manhattan or other areas of the United States moving to Brooklyn.

What you need to know: While this population has certainly increased, most of the increase is due to the Hassidic community. Not only do they have much higher birthrates than average, they also do not follow the normal pattern of leaving for the suburbs. This is easy to see - the greatest increase in the white population is in Borough Park and the Census Tracts around Flushing Avenue, both of which are heavily Hassidic areas. In addition, the growth in the under-18 population (6.8%) is much higher than the growth in the over-18 population (3.9%). That points to less MFAs in Prospect Heights and more Yeshiva students in Williamsburg. Immigration in southern Brooklyn from the former Soviet Union is also a factor, but less this decade than in previous decades.

"The Asian population tops a million for the first time."

The spin: In percentage terms, the Asian population has had by far the largest increase (over 30%) of any race or ethnic group in the last decade. This will probably be presented as a "milestone" with stories about the history of Asians in New York, or Asian cultural influence in the city, most likely focusing on the Chinese population.

What you need to know: While the growth of the Asian population is a significant point of interest, the real story is in the changing nature of the Asian population. In 2000, almost half (45.9%) of Asians in New York were Chinese (including Taiwanese), with Asian Indians (21.7%), Koreans (11%) and Filipinos (7%) the only other groups with more than 50,000 residents*. For 2010 the detailed Asian subgroup category hasn't been released yet, but when it is watch for a huge increase in the South Asian population, most significantly Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans, and a decline (in percentage if not absolute terms) of the Chinese and Korean populations.

But these three things are all subtopics of the story of the Census. There's one big story that I'm almost sure will go unreported - but that's for the next post.

*edit: I should probably also point out that many, and perhaps even a majority of the people in the "Asian Indian" category are Guyanese or Trinidadians of Indian decent.

Data Source: You can download the race and ethnicity data for New York City (as well as for other American cities) for the period of 1790 - 1990 here. Spreadsheets are by State, with historic race and ethnicity data for the individual cities contains within. You can download race and ethnicity data for New York City from 1990 - 2010 from the NYC Department of City Planning website here.

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