At DataWorks, we’re diving deep into housing and anti-displacement work–counting evictions and helping inform distribution of limited emergency rental assistance. We’ve felt Durham changing in the past ten years, and we’ve documented a rise in corporate ownership of rental properties. Release of 2020 Census results gives us the opportunity to quantify and validate the changes we see in the people living in Durham.
Our Main Take-Aways from 2020 Census Results
- According to the 2020 Census, Durham County’s population grew by about 60,000 people, or 21%. That’s twice the growth rate of the overall NC population, and about three times the overall population growth of the entire US.
- In Durham County, the numbers of people identified by the census as Black, Latina/o/x, or Asian grew at rates which were comparable to the state and nation. Durham’s growth in Black population was slightly above the state and national averages, and the growth in Latina/o/x and Asian population was below state averages but above national averages.
- The number of people identifying as white alone, and not Hispanic or Latino grew by 18% in Durham county, which was much more than in the state as a whole.
- Nationally, white alone population decreased in the most recent census, in part because of the increased number of people identifying with more than one race or ethnicity, as we discuss more below.
- The number of people identifying as indigeneous (“American Indian or Alaska Native,” according to the census) increased from around three thousand to over seven thousand. While part of this growth is due to the increased number of people reporting more than one race, the number of people identifying as American Indian or Alaska Native and no other race also increased by 70%.
Note: In order to fully count smaller racial groups, we’re choosing to represent the Census data by allowing folks to contribute counts toward all race groups, except white. As a result, these numbers may differ slightly from those reported elsewhere which rely on the “race group alone” (e.g. “Black/African American alone”) counts.
Our Concerns and Caveats when Interpreting the 2020 Census Data
Because the Census is a snapshot of the 2020 population, the growth we are seeing above doesn’t acknowledge the number of people who left Durham in the past ten years. We know that nearly as many people leave Durham as move here annually since 2012. At DataWorks, we strive to center the stories of the displaced folks and attempt to do so by supplementing Census data in our analyses.
Some major changes to the 2020 Census include new representations of racial and ethnic identities. These changes require us to rethink the ways in which we frame race in our materials and data tools. Historically, a lot of spatial characterizations of race groups only allow individuals to identify with one race identity, and the groups sum to 100%. This leads to undercounting of small populations, like citizens of American Indian tribes, as individuals identifying as American Indian are likely to identify with multiple racial identities. Undercounting populations contributes to erasure, which is especially problematic in places like North Carolina, where the majority of Indigenous folks are enrolled in tribes that are not recognized by the federal government.
Respondents to the 2020 Census were allowed to identify with multiple race groups, and we show the major rise in the number of folks identifying with multiple racial identities (across the United States, this number increased by 275%, with an increase of 246% in Durham County). In order to fully count smaller racial groups, we represent the data above by allowing folks to contribute counts toward all race groups, except white. But, now we ask ourselves whether it makes sense to treat whiteness differently in this context.
When we estimate statistics and map populations, what are the implications of counting whiteness only as the absence of other identities? We risk perpetuating the idea of whiteness as the unmarked default. What are the implications of doing otherwise? When it comes to centering historically marginalized people, we’d risk allowing the privileged, white population to be more prominent when informing discussions of representation and public resource distribution.
We have several concerns when interpreting the rise in folks identifying as 2+ races. Demographers found that increased availability of DNA tests has led many folks to identify with multiple race groups for the first time in the 2020 Census. The combination of increased popular use of DNA tests and new ancestral origin questions in the 2020 Census is likely exacerbating conflation of ancestral origin in the broad, social dialogue. This could result in a larger number of individuals who did not experience social or material marginalization being counted as part of marginalized groups, which leads to underestimation of disparities and influences the design and distribution of public services aimed at mitigating disparities.
The Future of Census Data
COVID-19 and disinvestment in the Census is forcing the Census Bureau to operate at lower capacity. One result of this is that the annual release of American Community Survey will be delayed from December til March 2022. But they also plan to greatly reduce the scope of available data, compared to the 2010 results, by limiting the geographic levels included in many summaries and eliminating several data fields entirely.
At DataWorks our greatest concern, eclipsing the interpretation nuances we described, is the loss of fine geographies and data on small populations. Our work and community data tools, like the Durham Neighborhood Compass, rely on centering the stories of Durham’s historically marginalized populations. Some of the most important data in the Compass comes from the Census–namely, the demographic data that provides the foundation for all of our analyses. We call on the Census Bureau to continue to provide smaller geographies and disaggregated data, so we don’t hide disparities. Removing these data points further silences voices that have been minimized for decades.