What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

America is becoming more urban, more diverse and less white, 2020 Census reveals

Despite a “hot mess” of a rollout and months of delays, new 2020 Census data reveals how America is changing. More respondents reported multiracial identities and for the first time on record, the white population declined. Lisa Desjardins explored the new data with Hansi Lo Wang of NPR and Mark Hugo Lopez from the Pew Research Center.

Read the Full Transcript

  • William Brangham:

    For the first time in a decade, we are getting the most comprehensive look at exactly who is living in the United States and where they are living, all 331 million of us.

    Lisa Desjardins takes a deeper dive into new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Today's census numbers will impact power and policy in this country, and they tell us a lot about what is happening right now and perhaps why.

    To help us understand, I'm joined by some census all-stars, Hansi Lo Wang, who covers the census for NPR, and Mark Hugo Lopez, director of race and ethnicity research at the Pew Research Center.

    Hansi, let's start with identity.

    The census has told us that the population of white Americans is on the decline. Now, those who describe themselves as white only are still the majority. But if you look at the numbers, white Americans who say they're white only, that number went down about 9 percent in the last 10 years, white-only non-Hispanic.

    Now, other groups rose, Black-only non-Hispanic up 5.6 percent, Asian non-Hispanic up about 35 percent, a big leap. And Hispanics saw a similar population boom, 23 percent increase in their population in the last 10 years.

    Was this surprising? What do you make of these numbers?

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    Well, the Census Bureau says this follows the demographic trends that they were expecting, based on their estimates and their markers along — in the years leading up to a census.

    And I think the thing to keep in mind here is that the white population, the Census Bureau says, is still the largest racial or ethnic group in the country, and that, if you take a look at the data in different ways, it tells you different stories about the white population. Yes, the Census Bureau says, if you take a look at the number of people who just checked off the white box when answering the race question, that share has declined over the past decade.

    But if you take a look at the number of people who checked off the white box, as well as other, at least one other, one other racial category, that group, that share has increased more than 300 percent. So, this is telling us that, over the past decade, more and more people living in the United States are choosing to report that they identify with more than one racial group.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Mark, let's talk about that specifically.

    I want to look at the numbers that Hansi is mentioning here, some other numbers indeed.

    When the Census Bureau grouped together those who say they are a race other than those described on the form or multiple races, let's look at the data that we saw today from that. That is now the second largest racial identity, essentially either multiracial or another race. And that — we saw that group go up 129 percent across all races.

    What is this telling us about America today and how people identify?

  • Mark Hugo Lopez:

    Well, there are many things that are happening here.

    Intermarriage rates, for example, right, have been rising over the last few decades. And we have seen, for example, among Hispanics, 24 percent of newlywed Hispanics marry somebody who is not Hispanic. About 27 percent of newlywed Asian Americans marry somebody who is not Hispanic.

    And, oftentimes, the person who is spouse is somebody who is white non-Hispanic. When we take at look at these numbers, the 33.8 million people who marked two or more races, which, by the way, is a large increase over 2010, when about 10 million people did the same, what we're seeing is more and more Americans are identifying multiple races as part of their identity.

    The Census Bureau will say that that's partly a reflection of the better way that they asked the question about racial and ethnic identity. But as you may have seen on TV, many people are searching and trying to understand their ancestry and their roots by doing DNA tests and so forth.

    But all of that speaks to me by saying that it looks like Americans are trying to understand where they're from, including claiming many of the different roots that they have in their background. And we saw some of that data today in the Census Bureau release.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Hansi, Mark just raised a good point. A lot depends on the question you ask.

    And the fact that the second largest racial group in this country is composed of people who either said they were other, not on the form, or multiracial, what does that say about data and a possible data problem for the census? And, also, they had other issues. What do we know about the accuracy of this data coming out of 2020?

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    The 2020 census was a hot mess.

    And one thing that didn't happen with the 2020 census was the race and ethnicity question was supposed to look very different for the 2020 census, according to the Census Bureau's original plans. The Census Bureau did years of research to try to address the issue that increasingly more people in recent censuses have selected some other race as their option when trying to answer the race question.

    The Census Bureau's research shows that a lot of folks who do check off that box, some other race, identifies as Hispanic or Latino. And so the Census Bureau was trying to address that, try to change the way to ask that question.

    But during the Trump administration, the White House's Office of Management and Budget did not make policy changes that were proposed, essentially didn't make any action on those proposals, forced the Census Bureau to move ahead to have to print out those paper census forms, get the census ready to go.

    And so the Census Bureau had to rely on a different kind of question that they were planning to use. And now we have here the second largest racial group, according to the 2020 census, is some other race. That is a data problem, because it is not very specific. And it includes a lot of folks who are essentially in one way saying this question doesn't really reflect the way I see my identity.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In the last couple minutes that we have here, I want to also talk about another issue of identity, which is geographic and population loss across the country.

    This is a map that the Census Bureau put up today. The brown spots are counties that have lost population in the last 10 years. That is much of the country. And cities are the places that are seeing some growth.

    I want to ask both of you what do you think these trends mean for our politics right now, our sharp divide, and the huge redistricting fight up ahead.

    First Mark, then you, Hansi.

  • Mark Hugo Lopez:

    Well, the Census Bureau noted today a lot of these changes are people moving to metropolitan areas.

    So, as you noted, suburbs and cities have seen some fast growth or at least more growth in the last 10 years than rural parts of the country. Now, this is a trend that's been going on for 20-plus years, 30 years. But it is interesting that, when you take a look at this, some of the fastest growing places are suburbs and also cities.

    The District of Columbia, I think, is really one good example of a place that was declining in the 1990s in terms of population, but is now one of the fastest growing parts of the country in terms of a city.

    This could have some implications for redistricting, because, as the population has shifted towards urban areas and suburban areas, that may lead to some different drawings of redistricting maps. We will have to see what happens. But that is one potential implication for this change.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    How big is this in redistricting and just voting rights and overall, Hansi?

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    You know, I think we have to remember, the data out today, the main purpose of it is to redraw voting districts. And this data is coming out more than four months late.

    And a lot of state lawmakers, redistricting commissions know that, are — have been aware of that. And some of them are under a lot of pressure to meet legal deadlines to draft voting maps. Some state and local governments have already pushed back upcoming election dates because they didn't have this data that's out now.

    And so the — it is a rush to get maps drawn. And also it's going to be a lot of pressure to make sure these maps are drawn fairly. Because of all this chaos now with these delays, we will have to see how redistricting, which is usually a very messy, messy process — this is likely to be even more contentious process with this data delay.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You help us understand this important mess, the census all-stars, Hansi Lo Wang, Mark Hugo Lopez.

    Thank you both.

  • Mark Hugo Lopez:

    You're welcome.

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment