This post was prompted by a suggestion in comments from a regular commenter that I look at this post at Five Thirty Eight by Jed Jolko which points out that the United States is no longer a country of white people living in small towns or the country:
Earlier this week, Jim VandeHei, a former executive editor of Politico, wrote an op-ed article for The Wall Street Journal accusing the Washington political establishment of being out of touch with “normal America.”
“Normal America is right that Establishment America has grown fat, lazy, conventional and deserving of radical disruption,” he wrote, citing his regular visits to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and Lincoln, Maine, as his credentials of normality.
It’s a familiar accusation in a year in which most presidential candidates are trying to pretend they have nothing to do with the coastal elite, and after one — Ted Cruz — spent weeks attacking “New York values.” Even PBS, a standard-bearer of the media elite, recently featured a quiz designed to assess in-touchness with “mainstream American culture” with questions about fishing, pickup trucks and living in a small town.
But that sense that the normal America is out there somewhere in a hamlet where they can’t pronounce “Acela” is misplaced. In fact, it’s not in a small town at all.
Read the whole thing.
I don’t believe that his methodology is useful or helpful for a simple reason: the variations in demographics and residence in the United States are not distributed uniformly throughout the country.
It’s true that the United States is no longer as white as it used to be and that more people live in metropolitan areas. Just about 50% of Americans live in the largest 48 metropolitan areas. That also means that about 50% of Americans don’t live in the largest 48 metropolitan areas.
However, when you begin to dive into the details the picture that emerges is much more complex. Let’s look at the statistics. According to the Census Bureau about an eighth of Americans are black, a sixth are Hispanic, and three-quarters are white.
If that’s what America looks like, a lot of the cities in those 48 don’t look like America. The metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Phoenix, Riverside, Seattle, Minneapolis, Denver, Portland, San Antonio, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, San Jose, and Salt Lake City have been 3% (Portland) and 8% (Pittsburgh) black population. Other major metropolitan areas have black populations considerably larger than the national level. Hispanic population is similar. Most of the major metropolitan areas have considerably fewer than the national percentage while the others have many more.
Just as the United States doesn’t look like small town early 20th century America it doesn’t look like Brooklyn (or Chicago), either.
I would tell a very different story about the United States today. I think that from an experiential standpoint what the country “looks like” depends on who you are. I think that most whites in the United States experience life as about 85% white, 5% black, 10% Hispanic, and the rest Asian, Pacific Islander, etc. while blacks experience life as about 50% black, 45% white, and 5% everything else. Both groups estimate the numbers of the racial and ethnic demographic groups incorrectly, typically overestimating the proportions of blacks and Hispanics.
I also think that most Americans either live in small towns or suburbs which are effectively small towns but that’s a subject for another post.
The graphic above illustrates the white percentage by state. If you mouseover a state, it will show you the percentage.