New York City grew more ethnically diverse and less racially segregated between 2010 and 2020, according to a new CUNY report for the city’s Districting Commission.

Long-established ethnic groups that have historically defined New York City’s political and cultural landscape are shrinking, according to the findings. That includes Italian, Irish, and Eastern European immigrants; African Americans; Afro Caribbeans and Puerto Ricans.

Meanwhile, ongoing foreign immigration is fueling the city’s growing population – and driving increasing ethnic diversity across racial groups. Newcomers flocking to the city include more Dominicans, African immigrants, and especially Asians, who accounted for more than half the city’s net growth of 629,415 residents in the last decade.

On a smaller scale, many neighborhoods are becoming more racially diverse, shifting the city’s racial geography, the report found. Long-standing inner-city majority Black, Asian and Latino neighborhoods are becoming whiter, as the reverse occurred in traditionally white “semi-suburban” areas in outer boroughs.

Immigration has restored the city, revitalized it in many different ways. And it’s introduced new immigrant-origin ethnic groups within all of the basic racial categories that we typically use. So the nature of what it means to be white or Black or Latino or Asian has been changing quite substantially.
John Mollenkopf, director of the CUNY Graduate Center’s Center for Urban Research

Immigration has kept the city from shrinking in recent decades, said John Mollenkopf, director of the CUNY Graduate Center’s Center for Urban Research and one of the authors of the report.

“Immigration has restored the city, revitalized it in many different ways. And it’s introduced new immigrant-origin ethnic groups within all of the basic racial categories that we typically use,” he said. “So the nature of what it means to be white or Black or Latino or Asian has been changing quite substantially.”

The CUNY report out this week is the most up-to-date and in-depth analysis of the city’s racial and ethnic composition and demographic shifts. Professors prepared a similar report 10 years ago based on the prior decade’s census data, but the new survey goes into greater detail. It was prepared for the city’s Districting Commission, which is in charge of creating new local voting maps every 10 years, to help guide future redistricting decisions and demographics research.

The report focuses on “communities of interest,” an inexact term that is, nonetheless, typically relevant in the creation of new voting maps. The city charter says electoral district lines should keep intact “communities with established ties of common interest and association,” which could be historical, racial, economic, ethnic, religious or something else. The state’s 2014 redistricting reforms also require an independent commission to consider communities of interest.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits electoral map drawers from diluting the voting strength of racial or certain “language minority” groups. However, there is no single legal definition and little guidance from courts on what constitutes “communities of interest,” according to the report’s appendix, prepared by Jeffrey Wice, senior fellow at New York Law School’s New York Census and Redistricting Institute, and Caitlin Mussey, a student fellow at the institute.

The demographic shifts also carry political consequences. The “blurring boundaries between groups and their growing intermixtures” will complicate the redistricting process, which by nature, more easily recognizes communities that are geographically concentrated, the report says.

“New groups are emerging and new and old groups are intermixed with each other in new patterns,” says the report’s conclusion. “It will thus be increasingly difficult to draw boundaries around distinct, more or less uniform groups.”

The rise of Asian New Yorkers

Across the board, the city’s racial groups have grown more ethnically diverse, researchers found. For example, within the city’s rapidly growing Asian population, which is predominantly Chinese, some of the largest increases were among South Asians. Over roughly the last decade, the number of non-Hispanic Indians grew by 26.8%, while the number of Bangladeshis grew by 45.4%.

The changing Latino ethnic makeup

The ethnic makeup of the city’s growing Latino population, which is predominantly Caribbean, continues to stand in contrast with the country’s Latino population, which is mostly Mexican. But over the last decade, the number of Puerto Rican New Yorkers declined by 12%, as many returned to Puerto Rico and moved elsewhere outside the city. Meanwhile, the Dominican population grew by nearly 116,000 or nearly a fifth, and shifted away from its historic base in Washington Heights to the Bronx. Argentineans and Central Americans — Guatemalans, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans — also saw significant growth, above 20% from 2000 to 2018.

More Black immigrants, Afro Latinos

Over the last decade the number of native-born, non-Hispanic African Americans shrunk by 11.7%, and the number of non-Hispanic Afro Caribbeans declined by 5.7%. Meanwhile from 2010 to 2018, the African and Afro Latino populations both grew by about a third and a quarter respectively.

A new racial geography

Fewer New Yorkers also live in neighborhoods where their race, or any race, is a majority. And more are intermarrying and identifying as multiracial – a change that may in part be affected by recent changes in census questions about race.

“Racial boundaries that were sharp and bright decades ago are blurring, whether at the family or neighborhood level,” says the report in the section attributed to Mollenkopf.

For any given racial group, some of the biggest decreases occurred in neighborhoods where they once dominated the population. That includes historically majority Black neighborhoods like Harlem, Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, and Flatbush, and Jamaica in southeast Queens; Latino neighborhoods like Washington Heights, Bushwick, and Sunset Park; white neighborhoods like Dyker Heights in southwest Brooklyn, Forest Hills in central Queens, and Pelham Bay in the Bronx; and Chinatown in Manhattan.

Black New Yorkers are also moving into more suburban-like areas of the city, like Canarsie in eastern Brooklyn and Morrisania and Co-op City in the Bronx. Meanwhile, white New Yorkers are moving into Bed-Stuy, Williamsburg, Bushwick and other neighborhoods closer to the center of the city.

‘Emerging communities’

The study also identified several “emerging” communities that grew over 10% in the last decade and fit certain size requirements: Bangladeshis, Egyptians, Ghanaians, Guatemalans, Nigerians, Ukrainians, and Uzbeks. New Yorkers in these mostly geographically spread-out communities are increasingly becoming citizens, but many households face stagnating incomes that are not keeping pace with the rest of the city.

Another “emerging” community the report authors singled out was the Muslim religious community. The census doesn’t ask about religious affiliation, but the report says the New York metro area has one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in the country. The report estimates some 450,000 Muslims live in the city, with the caveat that the number is “very likely” an overestimate because of certain assumptions upon which it is based.

Ahead of the next decade’s round of redistricting, the report recommends that city agencies collaborate with university researchers to map these “communities of interest. Such maps, the report says, would help the commission supplement public testimony, reach out to relevant communities, and understand the geographic boundaries of each community.

“In the next decade, these changes will continue,” Mollenkopf said.

“We’ve just gone through a long period of finding out what the new statistics are and reconceptualizing our ideas of community in the city,” he added. “But that’s not a task that is finished – that we can just forget about for 10 years.”

This article was updated: Source information was included for maps prepared by the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center.