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A Ground-level View of Ethnicity in America

By Wyatt Clarke, 2015 Summer Research Fellow at the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families

Do you ever wonder who other people see when they look out at the world? At the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families, we are particularly interested in the importance of perspective  and are always looking for new ways and new data to provide a more comprehensive picture of Hispanics in America. For National Hispanic Heritage Month – which runs from September 15 to October 15 – we take a break from looking at Hispanic children and families and instead ponder who Hispanics (and other ethnic groups) see when they look out at the world.

At the national level, 17 percent of Americans and 25 percent of American children are Hispanic. This makes Hispanics an ethnic minority. However, these overall numbers mask a great deal of diversity at more local levels as, in their neighborhoods, Hispanics are often a majority. For non-Hispanics, it’s the opposite: few non-Hispanics live on a block with lots of Hispanic neighbors.

To get a perspective on who Hispanics and others see in their communities, we pulled Census Bureau estimates of racial and ethnic composition at the block group, city, and state levels. Most block groups are exactly what they sound like – groups of city blocks. They include an average of 1,400 residents; 90 percent of block groups have between 500 and 3,000 people. Most of the estimates we present pertain to block groups, since these make up an individual’s immediate neighborhood, but we’ll also look at cities and states in a moment.

At the block group level, the difference between who Hispanics and non-Hispanics see in their neighborhood is stark. Hispanics tend to live in neighborhoods with high numbers of other Hispanic residents. In fact, around half of Hispanics live in a neighborhood where at least half of their neighbors are Hispanic. In contrast, more than 70 percent of non-Hispanics live in a block group where less than 10 percent of the residents are Hispanic.

Neighborhood infographic

Who else do different racial/ethnic groups see in their neighborhoods? It is hard to show the full distribution for this, but we present averages below. In terms of white neighbors, for instance, for Hispanics and African Americans, about one third of their neighbors are white. For Asians and those in the “Other” category (Pacific Islanders, multiracial, etc.), about half of their neighbors are white. For whites, 80 percent of their neighbors are white.

Average race/ethnicity by neighbors, by race/ethnicity

What if we zoom out to the city or state levels?

At the city level, non-Hispanics still see about the same proportion of Hispanics as they do at the block-group/neighborhood level. Hispanics, however, see fewer Hispanics.

City infographic

When we zoom out to the state level, most non-Hispanics live in states where a small percentage (less than a tenth of residents) is Hispanic. At the same time, nearly half of Hispanics live in a state where more than a third of the residents are Hispanic (i.e., California, Texas, or New Mexico).  That is, at the state-level, the Hispanic experience is on two ends of the extreme—living in states with small Hispanic populations or living in one of a few, but growing number of, states with large concentration of Hispanics.

State infographic

What these estimates mean is in the eye of the beholder. To some, they demonstrate residential segregation and immigrants’ struggles with assimilation. To others, they illustrate the rich cultural patchwork that is our country. Certainly, they show that the world becomes a more diverse place the farther one wanders from our homes and neighborhoods, especially for minorities.

Juan Felipe Herrera, America’s newly named Poet Laureate might say they reflect “The Most Incredible and Biggest and Most Amazing Poem on Unity in the World.” Feliz National Hispanic Heritage Month!

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