U.S. Census Data Show America’s White Population Shrank for the First Time

Decennial count indicates Latinos, Asians and other racial groups drove all U.S. population growth during past decade.

By guest authors Paul Overberg and John McCormick from Wall Street Journal. Chad Day and Anthony DeBarros contributed to this article.

Caption and graphics courtesy by the Wall Street Journal

The first detailed results of the 2020 census show a diversifying nation where the total white population shrank for the first time in its history and where large metropolitan areas, especially in the South and Southwest, saw the strongest growth.

The non-Hispanic white population dropped 2.6 % between 2010 and 2020, a decline that puts that group’s share of the total U.S. population below 60 %. The number of people who identify as more than one race or ethnicity grew at the fastest rate of any group, partly due to changes that captured more detailed responses.

The nation’s population grew just 7.4 % during the decade, the second slowest on record for a decennial census. Only the 1930s—the era of the Great Depression—saw slower growth. Slightly more than half, or 51 %, of the total U.S. population growth in the latest period came from increases among Hispanic or Latino residents, the Census Bureau said.

The new data show an overall aging of the nation’s population. Those under age 18 totaled 73.1 million, or 22.1 % of the U.S. population in 2020, a 1.4 % decrease from 74.2 million in 2010. The decline was partly due to lower fertility rates in recent years, the Census Bureau said.

As many cities and suburbs expanded, the bureau said, the trend toward rural depopulation continued during the decade. More than half of U.S. counties—52 %—had smaller populations in 2020 than in 2010.

“Population growth was almost entirely in metropolitan areas,” said Marc Perry, a senior demographer for the Census Bureau.

The cores of metro areas with more than a million people grew 9.1%, while their suburbs grew 10.3 %, a Wall Street Journal analysis of the new data shows. Smaller metro areas grew 7.1 %. By contrast, small towns and rural areas saw their combined populations drop 0.6 %.

Among the 10 largest U.S. cities, Phoenix saw the greatest percentage-point gain in growth during the decade, with its population increasing by 11.2 %. The Arizona city replaced Philadelphia as the country’s fifth largest.

New York easily remained the nation’s biggest city with 8.8 million people. It recorded a population gain of 7.7 %, a growth rate that among the 10 largest cities was behind only Phoenix, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.

Los Angeles, the second-biggest city, grew by 2.8 % during the decade. Chicago, the third-largest, saw the smallest gain among the 10 biggest cities, growing just 1.9 %.

The nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan area was The Villages, a sprawling retirement community in central Florida that saw a 39 % population gain during the decade, census officials said. North Dakota’s McKenzie County, which has been part of an oil-and-gas production boom, was the fastest-growing U.S. county during the decade, its population jumping by 131 %.

The census data reflect where people lived April 1, 2020, just before the pandemic sent hundreds of thousands to new homes, either temporarily or permanently.

The declining white total reflects decades of falling birthrates, rising death rates and minimal immigration. Non-Hispanic white residents remain the largest racial or ethnic group counted by the government. But as the U.S. diversifies, groupings have become more ambiguous. “White non-Hispanic” is the narrowest “white” definition used under federal standards, which treat a Hispanic ethnicity separately from race. Millions more say that they are white as well as another race or that they are white and Hispanic.

Including people who claimed two or more races in any combination, the multiracial U.S. population was recorded at nine million in 2010 and is now 33.8 million—a 276 % increase—the Census Bureau said. It cautioned that changes in how it processed answers were adjusted in 2020 to capture more detail on race and ethnicity, accounting for a share of the increase.

“The non-Hispanic white population has had more deaths than births in the past several years,” said Kenneth Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire. “Thus, at the same time that the minority populations are growing, albeit more slowly, the white population is not growing—and not just from low birthrates but also from growing deaths.”

The census counted 62 million people who claimed Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, up 23 % from 2010. They represent 18.7 % of the population, up from 16.3 % in 2010. Hispanics can be of any race.

The Asian population reached 20 million, up 36 % from 2010. It represents 6% of the total U.S. population, up from 4.8 % in 2010.

The Black population grew to 41 million, up 6 % from 2010. Its share of the nation’s population reached 12.4 %, down from 12.6 % in 2010.

The census also counted 3.7 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, 27 % more than in 2010. They made up 1.1 % of the population, up from 0.9 %. It counted 690000 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, an increase of 28 %. They remained about 0.2 % of the population.

The nation’s children are even more diverse than the U.S. as a whole. They are now 47 % nonwhite, up from 35 % in 2010.

Earlier results from the 2020 census—consisting only of population totals for states and the nation—were released in late April. The total U.S. population reached 331 million last year.

Delayed more than four months by the Covid-19 pandemic, the new results detail the racial makeup of every county, city, neighborhood and block in the country. Legislators and commissions will immediately use them to begin redrawing local and federal voting districts in time for next year’s elections.

In addition to intrastate shifts, 13 states are set to gain or lose seats in the House of Representatives next year through the once-a-decade reapportionment required by the Constitution. They’ll also lose or gain votes in the Electoral College beginning in the 2024 presidential election.

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Texas will gain two House seats, and five states will gain one each: Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon. Seven states will lose one apiece: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The new results will become the benchmark for tracking everything from disease and death rates to government-funding formulas and market research. They will also fuel studies on issues ranging from segregation and gentrification to suburban sprawl. More results, including detailed age and racial breakdowns as well as family relationships and homeownership rates, also have been delayed and aren’t yet scheduled for release.

The 2020 census has been dogged by problems and disputes. The Supreme Court in June 2019 blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question. Last year, the pandemic forced the Census Bureau to shut down many operations for weeks.