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Understanding Race and Hispanic Origin

Posted by on Jul 16, 2020 in Blog | No Comments

One of the most common questions we get asked is normally phrased as an accusatory statement – “Your data must be wrong, because when I add together the population by race plus the Hispanic population, the number is too big and doesn’t even match the total population.”

In common practice, the Census Bureau core table “Population by Race” contains the following elements – White, Black, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaskan Native, Other, and Multiple Race. What makes these the official races? A 1997 OMB (Office of Management and Budget) directive. Academics can’t agree on what the term “race” actually means and of course disagree on how many there are across the globe, but for our purposes the OMB declaration reigns supreme as they reflect the policy concerns of the Federal government.

Hispanic is not on this list because it is really a subset of the ancestry, but it is important enough to warrant separate table and to get a cross-tabulation with race.

Race and Hispanic origin (or ancestry) are self-declared, and explaining this to census respondents is understandably quite difficult, even though they are posed as separate questions. In the confusion, many people of Hispanic origin have listed their race as ‘other’. The solution is to use the AGS cross-tabulation table which will sum to 100% of the population:

  • White, non-Hispanic
  • Black, non-Hispanic
  • Asian, non-Hispanic
  • Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic
  • American Indian or Alaskan Native, non-Hispanic
  • Other Race, non-Hispanic
  • Multiple Race, non-Hispanic
  • Hispanic

For most business users, the question must be asked, “why does it matter”? It does if self-identification with a racial or ethnic group results in differences in consumer behavior or cultural norms which can affect a business at a particular location.

Immigrant groups have historically tended to cluster geographically, which is not surprising since it is only natural that people would feel more comfortable in a new environment when surrounded by people who speak the same language and have the same cultural traditions. Like most major cities, Los Angeles has clearly identifiable neighborhoods defined on ethnicity which are conveniently delineated on city signs – Little Armenia, Little Saigon, Koreatown just to name a few. The map below shows areas of significant concentrations of selected ancestry groups in Los Angeles:

Los Angeles Ancestry Concentrations

Equally important though is whether English is spoken or understood in households, and again, there are areas of Los Angeles with very high percentages of households where English is not spoken at all:

Los Angeles Non-English Speaking Households

Any site location project should be aware of significant clusters whether by race or ancestry, and equally, the extent to which English is spoken and understood. For this reason, we often suggest that demographic reports contain at least the following –

  • Population by race and Hispanic origin
  • Language and Linguistic Isolation
  • Ancestry

The language table allows the identification of areas where languages other than English are significant, and especially areas where English is not spoken. The ancestry tables are very detailed, and often only selected groups are relevant where language and culture may necessitate special consideration – design, product mix, signage, and so on.

For most businesses, the particular mix of race and ethnicity is not a primary factor in location decisions, but merits consideration in areas which contain high concentrations of a particular group, and it justifies wading through a lengthy table of ancestries to see if anything stands out.

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