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Just what do we mean by diversity anyway?

August 6th, 2013 3:32 PM

By Rob Breymaier

Executive Director, Oak Park Regional Housing Center

As you might expect, people regularly approach me to talk about diversity. Each time a conversation begins, I always try to find a way to ask what the person means when they say the word diversity.

The initial reaction people often provide is that a diverse community would be one that has equal percentages of the groups they think of including. Usually this is white, black, Latino, and Asian. In Oak Park it usually includes a multiracial share as well. The theory here is that if all groups had equal shares then everything would be equal. It sounds good at first but does not work out mathematically.

This is impossible to achieve in every community because the groups are not equally populous. In the Chicago metropolitan area, whites are eight and a half times more populous than Asians and more than twice as populous as African Americans or Latinos. Using the equal shares method, Asians (the smallest group) would all live in equally diverse communities and 60% of whites (the largest group) would be left to live in all-white communities.

A simple but sophisticated way to consider the diversity of a community is to see how closely a community resembles its regional demographics. For the Chicago region, 55% of the population is white, 18% is African American, 6% is Asian, and 21% is Latino[1]. These breakdowns are more reasonable than an equal 25% for each group. If each community had these percentages, then every community in the region would be similarly diverse.

A more complex model uses the regional percentages and then accounts for income differences to predict the demographics of a community given the cost of housing in the community. For Oak Park the model predicts, 64% of the population to be white, 16% to be African American, 6% to be Asian, and 13% to be Latino.

The variation between the second and third models shows the difference economics make. The two populations where economics make the biggest impact for Oak Park are whites and Latinos. The model has some utility in that it shows the diversity a community could hold without making any changes to the affordability of the community.

A way to measure how a community could work to improve diversity is to check the differences. The chart below shows how Oak Park compares to regional shares and the race and income index prediction. It is important to note that these comparisons are not quotas to be met. Instead, they are reference points to help determine if the community is appearing welcome to all.

 

 

White

 

African American

 

Asian

 

Latino

 

Total Variation

Oak Park Actual

 

64%

 

21%

 

5%

 

7%

 

 

 

                 

 

Regional Shares

 

55%

 

18%

 

6%

 

21%

 

 

Difference

 

9%

 

3%

 

-1%

 

-14%

 

27%

 

                 

 

Oak Park Predicted

 

64%

 

16%

 

6%

 

13%

 

 

Difference

 

0%

 

5%

 

-1%

 

-6%

 

12%

The total variation is the sum of the absolute values of each difference. For both cases, the variance in Oak Park is smaller than for the suburbs that surround us. Forest Park has variations of 30 and 29. River Forest has 54 and 24. Berwyn has 79 and 88. Elmwood Park is 39 and 39. Others in the area are all over 100 for both variations.

The numbers show that Oak Park is doing well to promote itself as a welcoming community to people of all four groups. But, it also shows that we could do better. And, it's important to remember that these numbers can always change. People move every day. About a quarter of all households move every year. About a third of renters move each year. Diversity is not guaranteed. Neither is it likely in our society. Being intentional and paying attention makes the difference.


[1] Latinos are counted differently than other groups in the Census. They may be of any race but can also be considered separately. The percentages of white, African American, and Asian do not include Latinos to keep from double counting persons.