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San Diego Grew More Diverse Over The Past Decade, Census Data Show

Children playing in the fountain in front of the County Administration Building in downtown San Diego on July 23, 2019.
Kris Arciaga
Children playing in the fountain in front of the County Administration Building in downtown San Diego on July 23, 2019.

White people are still the largest racial or ethnic group in San Diego County, but their numbers have shrunk over the past decade as the county has grown more diverse, according to newly released Census data.

The San Diego numbers came as the Census Bureau on Thursday issued its most detailed portrait yet of how the U.S. has changed since 2010, releasing a trove of demographic data that will be used to redraw political maps across an increasingly diverse country.

San Diego Grew More Diverse Over The Past Decade, Census Data Show
Listen to this story by Cristina Kim

The census figures have been eagerly awaited by states, and they are sure to set off an intense partisan battle over representation at a time of deep national division and fights over voting rights. The numbers could help determine control of the U.S. House in the 2022 elections and provide an electoral edge for the next decade. The data will also shape how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is distributed each year.


California lost a congressional seat based on population data released by the US Census in April. The data also show San Diego County growing by nearly 7% and becoming more diverse over the past decade. The white population continues to be the largest racial or ethnic group in San Diego County, but that population is shrinking.

San Diego County’s white, non-Hispanic population is 49.5% of the overall population, compared to 64% in 2010, according to the newly released 2020 data. Nationwide, white people are 57.8% of the total population, down from 63.7% in 2010.

The 2020 census data clearly shows that the country has become increasingly multiracial. San Diego County’s population reflects this national trend. From 2010 to 2020, the number of people that identified as “Two or More Races” tripled.

VIDEO: Census Shows U.S. Is Diversifying, White Population Shrinking

Tracking these types of demographic changes over the past decade, however, could prove difficult due to changes in the way that the US Census counted race and ethnicity in 2020. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.

“It is important to note that these comparisons between the 2020 Census and 2010 Census race data should be made with caution taking into account the improvements we have made to the Hispanic origin and race questions, data processing and the ways we code what people tell us,” said Nicholas Jones, Director of Race and Ethnic Research and Outreach at the US Census Bureau.


The figures show continued migration to the South and Southwest and population losses in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia. The numbers also indicate that the white population is aging and has fallen to its smallest share of the total population on record, though there are some exceptions. The share of the white population actually grew in coastal communities in the Carolinas and Virginia, as well as in counties stretching through the midsections of Georgia and Alabama. The population under age 18 is increasingly diverse.

The data comes from compiling forms filled out last year by tens of millions of Americans, with the help of census takers and government statisticians to fill in the blanks when forms were not turned in or questions were left unanswered. The numbers reflect countless decisions made over the past 10 years by individuals to have children, move to another part of the country or to come to the U.S. from elsewhere.

RELATED: What The New Census Data Can — And Can't — Tell Us About People Living In The U.S.

The release offers states the first chance to redraw their political districts in a process that is expected to be particularly brutish since control over Congress and statehouses is at stake. It also provides the first opportunity to see, on a limited basis, how well the Census Bureau fulfilled its goal of counting every U.S. resident during what many consider the most difficult once-a-decade census in recent memory.

Even before it began, the headcount was challenged by attempted political interference from the Trump administration’s failed efforts to add a citizenship question to the census form, a move that critics feared would have a chilling effect on immigrant or Hispanic participation. The effort was stopped by the Supreme Court.

The information was originally supposed to be released by the end of March, but that deadline was pushed back because of delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The start of the 2020 census for most U.S. residents coincided with the spread of the coronavirus last year, forcing the Census Bureau to delay operations and extend the count’s schedule. Because census data is tied to where people were on April 1, 2020, the numbers will not reflect the loss of nearly 620,000 people in the U.S. who died from COVID-19.

On top of the pandemic, census takers in the West contended with wildfires, and those in Louisiana faced repeated hurricanes. Then, there were court battles over the Trump administration’s effort to end the count early that repeatedly changed the plan for concluding field operations.

Back in April, the Census Bureau released state population totals from the 2020 census showing how many congressional seats each state gets.

“Certainly, the pandemic played a big role, but we can’t forget the political interference we saw,” said Terry Ao Minnis, an official with Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an advocacy group. “I think we know that all has played a role in whether people participated or not, whether it was from fear created about participating or sheer confusion about, ‘Who is at my door? ... Should I not open my door because of COVID? Should I not open my door because of the government?’”

Communities of color have been undercounted in past censuses. The Census Bureau likely will not know how good a job it did until next year, when it releases a survey showing undercounts and overcounts. But Thursday’s release allows researchers to do an initial quality check, and it could lead to lawsuits alleging that the numbers are faulty. The Census Bureau has a program that allows elected officials to challenge the data, but it does not apply to apportionment or redistricting.

“This is our first opportunity to see if there’s any indication of an unprecedented undercount,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). “There always is an undercount. This census will be no different, but our concern is to make sure this isn’t hugely out of proportion to undercounts we have seen in prior censuses.”

Nancy Maldonado, CEO and President of the Chicano Federation in San Diego, is also worried about a potential undercount.

“One of the questions that we got a lot when we were doing outreach is why do I have to check the white box?” Maldonado said. “That definitely threw people off and I think some of the early results that we've seen come back from the census revealed that a lot of people actually didn't answer that question.”

For the first time, the numbers will not be entirely accurate at the smallest geographic levels due to a new privacy method used by the Census Bureau. The method inserts controlled errors into the data at small geographic levels, such as neighborhood blocks, in order to protect people’s identities in an era of Big Data.

Acting Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin has warned that the process may produce weird results, such as blocks showing children living with no adults or housing units not matching the number of people living there.

The data released on Thursday is intended to help start the redistricting process in states across the nation. But the California Citizens Redistricting Commission will not start drawing new maps quite yet, according to Patricia Sinay, a Commissioner and Encinitas resident.

“We're waiting for the Statewide Database to kind of prepare the current data that we receive today,” Sinay said.

The data will be reformatted into a more accessible database and those in state detention will be reallocated to their last known address to ensure more accurate redistricting lines.

Sinay expects the Commission to start drafting maps by October but still intends to petition the California Supreme Court to extend the deadline for the new redistricting maps to January 14, 2022. In the meantime, they’re holding public meetings to hear community voices, not just look at numbers.

To participate in a session and provide input on the redistricting process, visit The California Citizens Redistricting Commission website.