Friday, September 6, 2013

What Makes Salt Lake City So White?

Posted By on September 6, 2013, 5:26 PM

In July, the University of Virginia created a comprehensive racial map that shows ethnic distribution across the United States. The map uses small, ethnically color-coded dots to represent U.S. residents—one dot for each person—and Salt Lake City’s map will probably surprise no one—it’s overwhelmingly white.---

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As you can see, the above map is covered mostly in blue dots, showing that Salt Lake City’s large white population is concentrated more on the east and south sides of the valley. Hispanics, also large in number, are more populous the farther west you go. More observable data lies in separation of ethnicity by highways and large streets: 700 East draws a sharp line between where the white population ends and the Hispanic population begins, 3500 South also marks a visible distinction between the two ethnicities, and most of the Asian population seems to gather around the University of Utah campus.

The map, based on data from the U.S. Census, is the brainchild of Dustin Cable, a demographics researcher from the University of Virginia, and is the first to ever show both pinpointed locations and racial makeups. In comparison to similarly sized cities such as Seattle and Portland, Salt Lake City does have a more clearly segregated population, but is not as distinctly separated as larger cities such as Detroit or New York City.

Pamela Perlich, senior research economist at the University of Utah, says that the concentration of Utah’s white population has much to do with immigration and age.

“In Utah, lots of kids were born in the early 1980s. And when they hit childbearing age, or ages of household formation, it correlated with the time when the immigrants came,” Perlich says, referring to the large influx of immigration that happened in Utah in the early 2000s. And, she says, Salt Lake City's East Bench "has a lot of old white people. Their kids moved out and they're staying in place until they leave, either through death or wherever else they go."

Economic factors, she says, are also at play. “A lot of the housing that’s in Salt Lake City is small, older housing, and it can get expensive. As we were hit with that big burst of people in the housing market in the early 2000s, a lot of people moved to Tooele County, southern Salt Lake County and northern Utah County. And these became suburbs where young people were setting up shop and having kids. And they were white kids, for the most part, because [their parents] were born in Utah in the 1980s, and that’s who was here.”

But, Perlich also mentions that the map may be flawed due to the census’s method of accounting for ethnicities.

“For race, choices are White, Black, American Indian, Native Alaskan, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Asian, and Other, and you can be a combination. For ethnicity, you only have one choice: Hispanic or non-Hispanic,” an identifier that connects to the Spanish language, Perlich says. “If you’re from Brazil, you’re not Hispanic, because that's a Portuguese-speaking nation,” she says.

In short, if you aren’t from a Spanish-speaking nation, you are considered by the Census to be white. What, then, according to the Census Bureau, is a minority?

“Anybody who answers differently than me. I’m white; that’s it. I’m German and English and not Hispanic. My grandmother wasn’t Japanese, my grandfather wasn’t Navajo. I’m just white and not Hispanic. If you answer differently than me, you’re a minority.”

So, what’s in store for Utah’s future racial distribution? Perlich says that finding out is just a matter of math.

“One out of four preschoolers in Utah is a minority kid; 49 percent of preschoolers nationally are minority. In the River Districts, which in Salt Lake is everything west of I-15, 75 to 80 percent of all the youth are minority kids. And the adults are white. ... So, you know, these guys are going to start dying off and minorities will come in. Nationally, births have become minority-majority, and Salt Lake City is only a few generations behind.”

A larger map of Utah’s racial distribution is available here; the full interactive U.S. map here.

Twitter: @IvyASmith

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