What An Increasing Non-White Population Means for Post-Pandemic Communities

By Kelley Cullen PhD and Dr. Patrick Jones

Although communities have recognized the many cultural, educational and economic benefits of racial and ethnic diversity, one of the unfortunate lessons of the recent global pandemic is that health disparities still exist. For example, the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recently released data showing that as a result of Covid-19, life expectancy had decreased on average 1.5 years for White Americans, but a surprising 3.7 years for Hispanic Americans. Additionally, recent survey data from The Economist / YouGov suggests that Hispanic Americans are less likely to be vaccinated, further putting them at risk of complications from the virus. As the last decade has seen increasing racial diversity of population at all levels of analysis – from the city to the county to the state and even the national level, it is important for policymakers to understand and support the different needs of their communities.

How is diversity measured?

One popular way to measure racial and ethnic diversity in a community is to use the share of the nonwhite population as a yardstick. An increase in the non-white population over time, broadly suggests that racial and ethnic diversity has increased. City and county levels can be benchmarked with state and national levels at any point in time.

Benton Franklin Trends features two indicators that provide the data for measuring racial and ethnic diversity of communities in this fashion.  Indicator 0.3.3 Non-White Population as a Percentage of Total Population measures the percentage of the population that fall under a racial category other than non-Hispanic white. Three groups of non-white population are provided: (1) Hispanic-Latine (from any race), (2) African-American, Asian, Native American, & (3) Other; and of Two or More Races.

Additionally, Indicator 0.3.4 Non-White Population as a Share of Total Population, by Race provides more comparative data about four racial groups in the population: (1) American Indian/Alaskan Natives; (2) Asians & Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders; (3) Blacks; and (4) Other & Two or More Races. This indicator can show which of the racial groups may be growing faster relative to the others – for example, across the board, larger amounts of population are identifying as Other & Two or More Races.

The indicators, taken together, provide a look at how Benton & Franklin Counties, both individually and combined, along with the Cities of Kennewick, Pasco & Richland have seen significant changes in non-white population benchmarked with Washington State and the United States.

How diverse are our communities?

In the last 15 years, Benton Franklin Counties combined have seen Hispanic/Latinx population increase to nearly one in three residents (from nearly one in four residents). This is significantly higher than the state average of 13% or the national average of 18%. All other races (African American, Asian-American, Native-American & Other Races) have stayed flat around 4%, while the Two or More Races designation has increased to about 3%.

Looking at the counties separately, we see that Franklin County has a larger share of Hispanic/Latinx population, but one that has increased only slightly from 48% to 53% since 2007. Benton County, on the other hand, has a lower share of Hispanic/Latine population (23%), but it has increased more since 15.7% in 2007. To the west, Benton County is bordered by Yakima County which, like Franklin County, has a Hispanic/Latine share of population of around 50%. Interestingly, also in southern Washington, Walla Walla County’s share of Hispanic/Latinx population is similar to Benton County’s at 22%. All four counties have a lot of agriculture & food processing, industries that typically provides a lot of employment for Hispanic/Latinx populations.

Turning to the city level of analysis, it is easy to observe that the City of Pasco has the highest share of Hispanic/Latine population at 54% and that has not changed in the last decade. In contrast, the City of Kennewick has seen the greatest change in share of Hispanic/Latine population to one in four residents (25%) up from one in five (20%) in 2009. Notably, the African-American, Asian-American, Native-American or Other Races is slightly higher in Kennewick than the combined county average (6% vs. 4%).

In the City of Richland, the estimated share of Hispanic/Latine population was 11%, increasing from 7% over the 2005-2009 period. Interestingly, while Kennewick has seen an increase in non-Hispanic people of color, Richland’s share of African-American/Asian-American/Native American/Other Races has fallen from 6% to 2%. Keep in mind that due to Richland’s small sample size, five years of data are necessary for reasonable estimates.

What are the Implications?

Clearly the combined counties and their respective cities have a culturally rich Hispanic/Latinx population that is well above the state and national averages. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the health and financial well-being of communities of color. From a public health perspective, whether due to increased risk of co-morbidities or hesitancy to get vaccinated, Hispanic/Latine populations are facing greater health challenges from the Covid-19 virus and this could impact local hospitals and clinics. 

Additionally, although unemployment rates have been falling as local economies rebound,  unemployment rates for people of color are typically higher than those for whites. At the national level, according to the BLS, the overall unemployment rate for June, 2021 was 5.9%, but the unemployment rate for Hispanic/Latine workers was 7.3%. Thus, the expiration of eviction and utility moratoriums could also be disproportionately felt across Hispanic/Latine populations in particular.

Racial differences also show up in age distribution. According to the Pew Research Center, the median age for whites is 44 years, but the median age for people of color is only 31 years in the US. Having an increasingly younger population will likely put increased pressure on public schools and in the case of communities with large Hispanic/Latine populations, there would potentially be an increased need for English Language Learner (ELL) resources.