The following excerpt is from the report “Immigration and Fading Color Lines in America,” by Frank D. Bean, Jennifer Lee, Jeanne Batalova, and Mark Leach, and published by the Russell Sage Foundation and the Population Reference Bureau. This report is one of several in the new series The American People, which sets the results of Census 2000 in context and collectively provides a portrait of the American people in a new century. Each report is written by an author or team of authors selected for their expertise with the data and their broad understanding of the implications of demographic trends. Reynolds Farley and John Haaga are the series editors.

(July 2004) The growth in the nonwhite population over the past 30 years has been not only dramatic but also diverse in terms of both race and ethnicity and geographic location. The increase in the nonwhite population has tended to involve several racial or ethnic groups, with each increase largely fueled by immigration, and it has disproportionately occurred only in some places. The major recent racial and ethnic composition shift in the country is at once highly conspicuous (especially in those places where it is taking place most rapidly, thus sometimes exacerbating fears about a growing nonwhite population) and nonmonolithic (which, if better understood, would probably lessen anxieties about racial or ethnic relations and conflict). The most nonwhite state in the country is Hawaii, whose population is 77 percent nonwhite; and the least is Maine, whose nonwhite population is 3 percent.

But this nonwhiteness departs from the black-white pattern that once traditionally characterized the country. If the data from the states with the 20 largest nonwhite populations are broken down into the four major nonwhite components of black, Latino, Asian, and Other, three patterns emerge:

  • First, the old black-white bipolar pattern is still somewhat in evidence, but only in Southern states such as Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, and Mississippi-states referred to as black-white states. By 2000, several places were showing a new bipolar pattern of mostly whites and Latinos, such as Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico–states referred to as Latino-white states. These states add a different dimension to the county’s old bipolar racial division.
  • Second, several states have populations containing at least three major racial or ethnic groups, each with relatively sizable percentages of the state’s total population (defined here as consisting of 10 percent or more of the overall state population): California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Texas. These states are designated new diversity states. Under a criterion of three groups, each with at least 7 percent of a state’s population, five more states (and the District of Columbia) would also qualify: Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Washington (see Figure 1).
  • Third, the states with the most racially and ethnically diverse populations are also among the country’s most populous and highest income places. Thus, increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the United States appears to characterize large and relatively prosperous states.

Figure 1
New Diversity States, 2000


Source: U.S. Census 2000.

Similar patterns of bipolar concentration and diversity are also evident in metropolitan areas containing the largest nonwhite populations in the country. Of the 20 largest such metro areas, 60 percent (12) are places where at least three racial or ethnic groups are represented in their populations. Located in new diversity states, these urban locales are the centers of the country’s new racial and ethnic diversity: Anaheim (Calif.), Fresno (Calif.), Houston, Jersey City (N.J.), Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Oakland (Calif.), Riverside-San Bernardino (Calif.), San Francisco, San Jose (Calif.), and Stockton (Calif.). Only eight of the top 20 nonwhite metro areas are bipolar places: five are Latino-white (El Paso, McAllen, and San Antonio, all in Texas; Bakersfield, Calif.; and Albuquerque, N.M.); two are black-white (Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans), and one is Asian-white (Honolulu). Clearly, diversity is the emerging touchstone of the new racial and ethnic structure in the United States. California leads the country in having the most metro areas with such populations, with eight of the 12 most diverse metropolitan areas.

While there is clearly an association between diversity and overall population size, there is also an association between diversity and high immigration. The most diverse states have relatively large foreign-born populations (see Figure 2). Among the top 20 states with large foreign-born populations, six also have at least three racial or ethnic groups making up at least 10 percent of the population. Similarly, among the top 20 metro areas in terms of foreign-born population, 10 are high-diversity places. Thus, immigration is contributing substantially both to population growth and to the emergence of racial and ethnic diversity in this country.

Figure 2
Percent Foreign-Born, United States, 2000

Source: U.S. Census 2000.

Frank D. Bean is professor of sociology and co-director of the Center for Research on Immigration, Population and Public Policy at the University of California, Irvine. Jennifer Lee is associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine. Jeanne Batalova is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. Mark Leach is a graduate student of sociology at the University of California, Irvine.