Rurals of Nevada: Inside Elko County, part 2 - Diversity (art. 10)
"Noteworthy is the dominance of Latino or Hispanic contributions to growth in places that otherwise might have lost population during the 2010s." - William H. Frey, Brookings Institute, 13 August 2021
The concept of diversity has emerged as one of the most contentious issues over the last decade or so. The growing recognition of the variety and distinct experiences of American communities is, frankly, much overdue and very welcome. But the question as to the extent this diversity can be measured and then used to devise effective policies remains very much in question and will remain one of the most significant political issues for the next decade.
One of the most talked about new measures from the 2020 Census, the Diversity Index attempts to capture the racial and ethnic diversity of areas. I previously discussed the idea in the second article on the Aging Rurals, concerning populations under 18 years old. As explained by the Census Bureau, the measure represents the chance that any two people met will be of different race and ethnicity groups. In some ways, this approach and its conceit of a hypothetical encounter between Americans are similar to the “Walk-in-the-Park” metric I have been having fun with the last few weeks. But what does the Diversity Index tell us?
The Census Bureau’s Diversity Index
The idea of the Diversity Index appears to have grown out of mid-1970s debates on the nature of inequality. The specific model used by the Census Bureau is derived from the work of sociologist Peter Blau, an important explorer of the intricacies of social interaction and group organization in his Inequality and Heterogeneity: A Primitive Theory of Social Structure (1977). The formula is given here in the footnote “Diversity Index.” It basically takes the various Census racial categories percentages (Hispanic/Latino, those listing one of the six racial categories alone but not Hispanic/Latino, and those listing two or more races but not Hispanic/Latino) to create the measure:
A higher Diversity Index means one of two things: either there are multiple numbers of different racial or ethnic groups in an area with good-sized populations (most urban areas) or a single non-majority race or ethnicity is present in large numbers but not equal numbers (Mineral County, with over 20% Native American population, for instance). The Census Bureau can explain the variations better than I can.
As a snapshot to get a look at our communities, the Diversity Index is rather neat. But I remain dubious about its use for addressing policy issues because I am not really sure what it says. The DI measure does not appear to be explicative in itself. Even the most significant use of racial and ethnic data, the creation of representative electoral districts, relies on the percentage of single groups rather than some combined measure of diversity. In short, does looking at the DI of a state say something definitive about some other quality, such as median age, economic status, or potential for growth for an area?
That conclusion is exactly what has been done in popular media reporting following the first 2020 Census data releases. As I mentioned in the Aging Rurals article about the Population under 18 measure, a well-worn media trope is that rural America, predominantly white, is aging while urban America is more diverse and younger. Underlying this analysis is a decline in white fertility compared to the national average, as William H. Frey from the Brookings Institute explains here (this is the article the quote from the top of the page is from). Frey’s data is excellent, although given that 63% of the American population identifies as white raises the possibility that the size is skewing the results similar to how Las Vegas skews the Nevada results or Pahrump shifts Nye County demographics. More significant is the relationship noted by Frey becomes the basis for a corollary: if a white population is having fewer children than the national fertility rate, other groups must be having more children. And since more children mean a younger area, then ergo the younger the area the more diverse the population. Easy peasy and the story deadline is approaching, so run with it.
A cursory glance at the Diversity Index and one of the more important measures of age, the Population under 18 percent, shows that the relationship between young, reproducing populations is a bit . . . complicated. Using some wonderful Census Bureau visualizations put out with the 2020 redistricting data releases (Population under 18 and Diversity Index), we can do a rough test between the question of age and diversity. Let’s start by looking at the five “oldest” states, defined by the lowest portion of the Population under 18:
Vermont - Under 18 = 18.4%; DI = 20.2%
Maine - Under 18 = 18.5%; DI = 18.5%
New Hampshire - Under 18 = 18.6%; DI = 23.6%
Rhode Island - Under 18 = 19.1%; DI = 49.4%
Massachusetts - Under 18 = 19.4%; DI = 51.6%
Pretty close parallel here between the two measures. Maine, Vermont, and West Virginia are the three least-diverse states (and West Virginia is the 8th “oldest” state with Under 18s at 20.1%).
However, if we look at the bottom end of the chart, a different story emerges. Using the exact same sources as above, we have a list of the 5 states with the highest percent of Population under 18 and their Diversity Indexes:
Utah - Under 18 = 29.0%; DI = 40.7%
Idaho - Under 18 = 25.2%; DI = 35.9%
Texas - Under 18 = 25.0%; DI = 67.0%
Nebraska - Under 18 = 24.7%; DI = 35.6%
South Dakota - Under 18 = 24.3%; DI = 35.6%
Texas is the only one of these five with a DI above the national average of 61.1%, and the other four all have DI well under Rhode Island and Massachusetts, two of the oldest states. And the most diverse state? Hawaii, with a DI of 76.0%—but also the 13th oldest with a Population under 18 of 20.6%. Nevada, by the way, is in the solid middle of the Population under 18 list (30th, with 22.3% under 18) despite the high DI of 68.8%.
At the state level, a rough correlation exists between older states and less diversity—but this diminishes sharply for younger states.
At the state level, there is a rough correlation exists between older states and less diversity. But even here the relationship is not as direct. Non-diverse West Virginia is sandwiched in age between Florida and New York—both among the highest states in diversity. Of course, Florida and Hawaii have a simple explanation: both are very popular voluntary retirement destinations, which ratches up the age significantly. But New York? And I am not even including the District of Columbia, which simultaneously has the smallest population under 18 and is the most diverse place in the country. Turns out gerontocracy is as bad for data analysis as it is for anything else.
But the correlation disappears among younger states almost completely. What strikes me as most significant in these two lists is not diversity but geography. Younger states tend to be more southern and western—particularly in the Plains and Intermountain West—while older states are clustering in the northeast and eastern midwest. I would read the primary dividing line as economics, not age or demographics. The expanding economies of southern and western states are attracting more people of all races and ethnicities and providing solid enough employment to encourage families. Older, more mature economies are not creating these opportunities, and the population left tends to be older and probably as a result of that aging not having children. Policies based solely on age and diversity risk underestimating the components driving both.
Elko County CCDs and the Diversity Index
An obvious question is whether a national and state-level focus is obfuscating the question. If we look more closely at smaller communities, is there a more pronounced effect between diversity and aging? The Census Bureau did generate the Diversity Indexes for Nevada counties, readily visualized on the America Counts: Nevada page, based on 2020 Census data. Of the five most diverse counties—in order Clark, Washoe, Mineral, Pershing, and Carson City—only Clark has a Population under 18 higher than the state and national averages. Elko County, for the record, is the 6th most diverse county in the state, with a DI of 52.7%. At the other end, the five least diverse counties—in order Lincoln, Eureka, Storey, Douglas, and Esmeralda—include the oldest counties in Nevada, but also relatively young Eureka and Lincoln (although I think Lincoln is only a temporary spike, as I explain here). The correlation between diversity and age is even less applicable to Nevada than the United States as a whole.
But we can get an even closer look. Just over a week ago, I looked at the County Census Divisions (CCDs) within Elko County. Using those same CCDs and the 2020 Census Re-Districting Public Law 94-171 Re-Districting File (specifically, Table P2), I calculated the Diversity Indexes within Elko County (the county DI is 52.7%, remember). Here is the result:
For the record, I tried to do the same Diversity Index calculations with the 2021 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, using Table DP05. The results were bizarre, to say the least. While the overall county DI was close (52.2% in 2021 versus 52.7% in 2020, so a bit less diverse), many of the CCDs saw swings of well over 10%. Moreover, there were some real doozies. For example, both Jarbidge and Montello CCDs listed 9.8% and 7.8% Hispanic/Latino population percentages in the 2020 Census, but no Hispanic/Latinos in the ACS data in either 2020 or 2021 5-Year Estimates. The lag in incorporating the 2020 Census data (and its new race and ethnicity categories) into the American Community Survey estimate models combined with the small sample size (both CCDs have very small populations in 200 or so range) is causing some significant data errors, I think.
The lag in incorporating the 2020 Census population counts and race and ethnicity categories combined with the small sampling sizes in some CCDs makes the recent American Community Survey data rather suspect for diversity uses.
Interestingly, these do not seem to create the same problems with the age numbers, which are a bit more consistent in the two data sets. This issue is one which may require revisiting in the future. For now, I am going to constrain myself to the 2020 Census data for the rest of this analysis.
So, as of the 2020 Census, the two least diverse CCDs, Jarbidge and Montello, are also the two oldest (by multiple measures) in Elko County, as I discussed in the first “Inside Elko County” article. But of the four youngest CCDs—Jackpot, Mountain City, West Wendover, and Elko—only Jackpot had a DI above 50% in 2020. The Elko CCD, with the single largest share of the population in the county and one of the youngest, is one of the least diverse. On the other hand, the Wells CCD is the second most diverse, but the third oldest CCD (out of 8, remember). The correlation between diversity and age is rather fractured in Elko County.
Also note the Mountain City and West Wendover CCDs, because they say something else about the Diversity Index as a measure. Both CCDs are moderately diverse, in the 45-50% range. However, they are also two of the three CCDs in Elko County with non-white majority populations. Mountain City’s population was over 85% Native American in 2020, while West Wendover was more than 67% Hispanic/Latino. So why the moderate DI? Remember that the Diversity Index does not measure the chance of meeting someone non-white, which is a popular interpretation. It is the chance of meeting someone of a different racial or ethnic group. It just happens that in most of the United States, the majority population will be white, so the “different” category will be non-white. Jackpot CCD in 2020, had both a Hispanic/Latino and non-Hispanic/Latino population each under 50%—which raises the DI. But if an area starts with a majority non-white population, the DI will reflect that majority as the “base” population. The formula for Diversity Index itself is, in effect, colorblind.
The Diversity Index formula is not a measure of meeting someone non-white, but of meeting someone of a different race or ethnicity category. It is an important distinction in using the Diversity Index to devise policy.
Here’s the issue. Recall that the popular use of diversity in connection to aging is based on a fall in white fertility rates. If a particular area has a majority non-white and minority white population, the correlation between diversity and aging may not hold because the white fertility rates at the base of the correlation do not apply. For example, both Mountain City and West Wendover CCDs have both white minorities but show some significant differences in age measures. To understand these situations, which are likely far more common at the local level (particularly in the West), we should be looking more at the dynamics of the specific groups in question than some abstract idea of diversity.
The Hispanic / Latino Population in Elko County
We can start with the Hispanic/Latino population. As Frey points out in the quote at the top of the article, the growth of the Hispanic/Latino population is widely considered to be replacing declining fertility (either through immigration or having children) in other populations. Capturing the dynamics of the Hispanic/Latino population in terms of race more effectively was a major concern of the 2020 Census, as detailed in this article.
So what about Elko County? People of Hispanic or Latino descent represented just over a quarter of Elko County’s population per the 2020 Census, at 25.3% of the population, having seen a 21.3% increase since 2010. This is less than Nevada’s overall Hispanic/Latino population total at the same time of 28.7%, but well above the U.S. national average of 18.7%. For the record, the 2021 ACS 5-Year Estimate places the percentage at 24.9%, roughly the same. They are the largest non-white population group in the county.
This population is not spread evenly in Elko County, however. Rather, it is concentrated in three CCDs: West Wendover (majority Hispanic/Latino), Jackpot (almost 50% of the population), and Elko (only 22%, but home to over 68% of the county’s Hispanic/Latino population). The map below shows the distribution between Elko CCDs:
Again, the CCDs with the highest percentage of Hispanic/Latino population, West Wendover and Jackpot, are among the youngest in the county. But Mountain City has a very low percentage, so the population growth there is coming from the Shoshone-Paiute community in Duck Valley. And the Elko CCD is home to the majority of the county’s population (almost 79%), although only 22.0% are Hispanic/Latino (and represent over 68% of the Hispanic/Latino population here).
To get at the question of aging, however, it is not just the population diversity which matters, but how that population is divided by age. During the 2020 Census (Table P4), Elko County had 28.4% of its Population under 18, for its Hispanic/Latino population that number was 37.0%, and 25.5% for the non-Hispanic/Latino population. Significantly all these numbers are well above the state and national averages for Under 18s. But only 32.9% of the Population under 18 was Hispanic/Latino—a higher percentage, but not by much. Over the county as a whole, the young population is not being driven exclusively by Hispanic/Latinos. Native American and the dominant non-Hispanic White population is increasing as well.
This general pattern holds for the Census County Divisions as well; each one has a higher percentage of the Hispanic/Latino Under 18 population than the Hispanic/Latino population percentage as a whole. But only slightly. And in only two CCDs—Jackpot and West Wendover—do Hispanics/Latinos comprise over half the Under 18 population (53.1% and 78.0%, respectively).
There is one important caveat to this, however. In general, the Hispanic/Latino population is younger in the sense that higher percentages of its population are Under 18. Only in Jackpot (28.1%) and Jarbidge (25.0%) are less than 30% of the Hispanic population under 18. Given than the economies in these are casinos and commercial ranching and the population so small, it is not too surprising for the numbers to be low. But only in the Elko and West Wendover CCDs does the percentage of Hispanic/Latino Population under 18 exceed 35% (at 36.7% and 40.0%, respectively). In all cases, it is still higher than the mid-20s percentages for Under 18 among the non-Hispanic population.
In the end, the Hispanic/Latino population in Elko County is young, growing, and increasingly important, but likely not at the level to overtake other population groups in the short term. Nor do I agree in Elko County’s case that in the absence of the Hispanics/Latinos the population might not have grown or would even have to rely only on domestic or international migration. With over 70% of Elko County’s population non-Hispanic/Latino, and 63.6% of it checking “White alone” in the 2020 Census, it should not be shocking that in such a young county it is not a single racial or ethnic group responsible for all the growth. But this is largely apparent only by disaggregating the communities separately rather than relying on a single measure alone.
It is not a coincidence that there is a wide discrepancy in CCDs and their racial and ethnic demographics within Elko County any more than there is between states. The young areas of Elko County are not young because their racial or ethnic makeup is different, but because the demographics are being driven by the groups attracted by the economics of these areas. The Casino CCDs (Jackpot and West Wendover) are attracting a semi-skilled relatively low-paid population—the traditional jobs that newer immigrant communities have gathered around historically (rightly or wrongly). The Elko CCD is diversifying, and attracting a more diverse population but primarily those of the majority population (whites). In both cases, the result is young communities—but for different reasons. For those areas that continue to rely on older industries, particularly commercial ranching, you have an older population. The same dynamic is occurring when comparing Vermont and Utah—only the scale is different.
A separate dynamic is in play, I suspect, with the Native American population, particularly in Duck Valley. But to tackle that question some deeper discussion of the unique reporting issues with the American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) population in the Census data is needed. So I will be tackling that in the next article.