The Census Bureau on Thursday issued its long-awaited portrait of how the U.S. has changed over the past decade, releasing a trove of demographic data that will be used to redraw political maps across an increasingly diverse country. The data will also shape how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is distributed each year.
Here are five takeaways from the latest census figures:
White population declined for first time on record
A U.S. headcount has been carried out every decade since 1790, and this was the first one in which the non-Hispanic white population nationwide got smaller, shrinking from 196 million in 2010 to 191 million in 2020.
The data also showed that the share of the white population fell from 63.7% in 2010 to 57.8% in 2020, the lowest on record, though white people continue to be the most prevalent racial or ethnic group. In California, Hispanics became the largest racial or ethnic group, growing from 37.6% to 39.4%, while the share of white people dropped from 40.1% to 34.7%.
Some demographers cautioned that the white population was not shrinking as much as shifting to multiracial identities. The number of people who identified as belonging to two or more races more than tripled from 9 million people in 2010 to 33.8 million in 2020. They now account for 10% of the U.S. population.
People who identify as a race other than white, Black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander — either alone or in combination with one of those races — jumped to 49.9 million people, surpassing the Black population of 46.9 million people as the nation’s second-largest racial group, according to the Census Bureau.
But demographers said that may have to do with Hispanic uncertainty about how to answer the race question on the census form.
The US became more urban
Almost all of the growth of the past 10 years happened in metropolitan areas. More people in smaller counties moved to larger counties. Around 80% of metropolitan areas saw population gains, while less than half of the smaller so-called micropolitan areas did.
Phoenix was the fastest-growing of the nation’s top 10 cities. It moved from sixth to fifth, trading places with Philadelphia, which is now the nation’s sixth-largest city.
Decline in children; adults take larger share
The share of children in the U.S. declined because of falling birth rates, while it grew for adults, driven by aging baby boomers. Adults over age 18 made up more than three-quarters of the population in 2020, or 258.3 million people, an increase of more than 10% from 2010. However, the population of children under age 18 dropped from 74.2 million in 2010 to 73.1 million in 2020, a 1.4% decrease. Nationwide, children under age 18 now make up around 22% of the population, but it varies by region. The Northeast had the smallest proportion of people under age 18, around 20%, while the South had the largest at 22.5%.
Skyrocketing Hispanic and Asian growth
The nation’s 7.4% percent growth rate over the decade, the smallest since the Great Depression, largely was propelled by a Hispanic boom. The Hispanic population grew by almost a quarter over the decade. By comparison, the non-Hispanic growth rate was 4.3%. Hispanics stood at 62.1 million residents in 2020, or 18.7% of the U.S. population, up from 16.3% in 2010. The most Hispanic growth was in Florida, Texas, New York, Illinois and California.
Meanwhile, Asian growth jumped more than a third over the decade, rising to 24 million people in 2020.
Rapid growth in unexpected places, losses in Puerto Rico and West Virginia
Among all U.S. metro areas, the fastest-growing one was in The Villages, the Florida retirement community built on former cow pastures. Other fast-growing areas in the U.S. were fueled by the energy boom, particularly in North Dakota, where McKenzie County was the country’s fastest-growing county. Its population increased by 131% from 2010 to 2020. Nearby Williams County, North Dakota, grew by 83%.