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Thursday, May 10, 2012


WNYC has a really interesting interactive map which measures the diversity of each New York City Census Tract.

It's worth noting that the definition of "diversity" is based on the Diversity Index. This is the probability that two people chosen at random will be of a different race and ethnicity (by "ethnicity" I mean the census definition, which is either Hispanic or non-Hispanic). It's a good and simple measurement for racial diversity, and mathematically allows for diversity to increase based on two factors - both a higher percentage of people of minority groups, as well as the amount of minority groups themselves. For instance, a tract that's 75% Black and 25% Asian would have a diversity index of 38.5, while one that's 50% Black and 50% Asian would have a diversity index of 50. However, one that is 50% Black, 25% Asian, and 25% Pacific Islander would have a diversity index of 62.5.

But this index is one that is not really designed for the type of diversity we're used to here in New York, where we think of language, religion, ethnicity (in the non-census sense of the word), being foreign-born, and several other factors as contributing to "diversity," as well as race.

For instance, take the tract in Midwood (Brooklyn Tract 754) a mainly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood that they report on as "the most homogeneous in NYC." While the tract is 100% white and only .3% Hispanic, if you dig a little deeper the numbers tell a different story. According to the 5-year ACS data, 7.7% of the residents are of Arabic ancestry (who are classified as "white" by the census), 15% of residents are foreign-born, and almost 20% of residents speak a language other than English at home*. Not huge indicators of diversity by NYC standards, but a ways away from deserving the label "homogeneous."

As for the Jewishness of the neighborhood, this is tougher to quantify, but there are clues in the Ancestry category. The census does not count religion, and will not enumerate any answer in the Ancestry category that they consider a religious answer, instead putting them in the "other group" category. This includes "Jewish," as well an any and all derivatives (even ones considered more ethnic than religious, like "Askenazic"). A little over half of the First Ancestry category is enumerated as "other groups."

Unfortunately, this doesn't really tell us a whole lot, as a little over half of New York City overall falls into the "other group" category and New York City is only estimated at about 10% Jewish. However, to complicate things even more, a large percentage (probably close to half) of these are answers are various Hispanic ancestries, which the census tabulates as Ethnicity and not Ancestry. And since our tract as a whole is only .3% Hispanic, we can pretty safely assume a good amount of the "other group" is Jewish. In addition, about a quarter of the responses are various Eastern European ancestries that are likely to have been put down by Jewish respondents. Taking this data, and factoring in some observation from a quick stroll through the neighborhood, I think it's safe to assume the neighborhood is at least half Jewish.

But, there's one more clue. About 20% of the First Ancestry answers are ones very unlikely to be put down by Jewish respondents. These are English, Irish, American, and Lebanese. (There is also Syrian and Iranian ancestry reported, but Southern Brooklyn has communities of Syrian and Iranian Jews). This lets us peg the Census Tract as one that's at most 80% Jewish, giving us a (very rough and unscientific) estimate of about 50-80% Jewish overall. There's really no way of knowing beyond this rough and unscientific guess how Jewish the tract actually is, (much less how Orthodox Jewish), but I think we know enough to say "homogenously," would not be a fair adjective to use.In fact, rather than portraying the eight blocks of Midwood as some kind of insular shtetl, a far better angle for the story would have been "even at its most homogenous, NYC is amazingly diverse."

Neighborhoods: Midwood
Tracts Walked: B754

*It should be noted that the margins of error for these questions on the Census Tract level are enormous, due to the replacement of the Census Long Form with the American Community Survey. But you work with the datasets you have.

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