Behind The Numbers
By Angela Montefinise
New York Department of City Planning Population Division Director Joseph Salvo is a man of many numbers with one particular borough close to his heart.
The analyst whose job it is to pour
through the statistics, percentages and facts of the 2000 Census candidly
told the Tribune, “I love studying Queens . . . [it is] completely
different than any other borough.”
Salvo explained that the City’s most
populated borough is “clearly the most diverse in the City,” and said
that City Planning borough breakdowns of Census demographic information
released on May 23 prove it.
The statistics show that Queens’ diversity has actually increased since 1990, with the foreign-born population of the borough increasing by 36 percent. One million new immigrants were added to the most populated New York borough since 1990, and of the over two million Queensites counted in 2000, nearly one million of them were born outside of the United States . . . making Queens home to the most foreign-born New Yorkers.
But Salvo’s fascination goes beyond
the population numbers and into the Queens subtleties. “If you look at any
one area in Queens, there is no ethnic group that dominates. Even in
Flushing, where there is a strong Asian presence, no one group is the
dominant ethnicity. You know how many Asian groups there are? Chinese people
only make up 15 percent of the area.
“It is conceivable that an area can
have a large number of different ethnicities, but no diversity, because the
groups stick together and don’t mix. That’s not the case in Queens at
all. Southeast Queens may be primarily black and Flushing may be primarily
Asian, but within those groups is tremendous diversity. I just love to look
For Census takers, the borough’s diversity presented challenges and language barriers that made the counting tough and the conclusions tougher. United States Census Bureau Regional Director Tony Farthing called Queens his, “most difficult task . . . It’s the most interesting place to look at, but the hardest to tap into.” And as Queens’ immigration continues to grow, and Census Bureau officials are considering changing the Census’s format for 2010 to help account for the diversity.
But in the meantime, Farthing maintains that the Census did get an accurate count of the people in Queens. “Based on that count, it’s safe to say that Queens is the most diverse borough in New York City, and probably the most diverse county in the United States,” he added.
At a press conference in Manhattan on May 23, Census Bureau officials released and explained demographic information for the five boroughs and New Jersey – information that included ethnicity and language, was interpreted by New York Department of City Planning officials.
City Planning worked closely with the
Census Bureau and released borough-breakdowns of the demographic information
by Community Board district and neighborhood on its website this week,
complete with charts and graphs.
In Queens, overall population increased
from 1.95 million to 2.22 million people, and 46 percent of those people are
The area of Queens with the most
immigration, the biggest population and the greatest population increase was
Jackson Heights and North Corona, according to Census statistics. That area
had a 31 percent population increase since 1990, and has now over 169,000
people living there.
The Woodhaven and Richmond Hill area
experienced a 28.3 percent increase in population, and the population of
Elmhurst and South Corona increased by 21.9 percent.
The area with the least population growth was the Rockaways, according to Census statistics, and that population still grew by six percent.
Salvo’s favorite area in Queens is
Jackson Heights, which he said, “Is the most ethnically diverse area in
Queens . . . no doubt about it . . . . The area used to be a working class
neighborhood for Germans and Italians, and over the last 20 years, has
become a haven for a variety of immigrant groups.”
He explained, “In Jackson Heights, you
still have pockets of working class European immigrants, you have blacks and
Asians, and you have Hispanics, who come from a variety of countries. Many
Mexicans are moving there from other parts of New York, as well as
Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. The category of Hispanic doesn’t mean just
one group. That group is diverse within itself.”
Census statistics for Community District
3 — which includes Jackson Heights and North Corona — show that 57.3
percent of the population is Hispanic, and Salvo explained, “There is a
mix of Hispanic culture in Jackson Heights . . . There are also South Asians
from India and Pakistan in Jackson Heights, and large numbers of Caribbean
people. You can really find any ethnicity there.”
According to Census statistics, a
quarter of all New Yorkers over the age of 18 have “trouble with
English,” adding to difficulties in Census taking, particularly in Queens.
Farthing said, “We definitely hit some roadblocks taking the Census
because of language barriers. But we consciously tried to find Census takers
who could speak the languages needed in certain areas so we could get a
The problem was especially strong in
Queens, Salvo said, noting it was where “the biggest problems with long
form returns were. That means Queens’ data may be skewed somewhat by who
returned the forms.” In addition, the Census does not count illegal
immigrants or address the issues of illegal apartments – huge problems in
Salvo said, “Queens is even more diverse than the statistics show.”
Where there were once Koreans in
Flushing, there are now Chinese immigrants. Where there were once Europeans
in Jackson Heights, there are now Hispanics. Where there were once whites in
Bellerose, there are now South Asians.
Salvo told the Tribune, “ You
see Hispanics moving into areas like Maspeth, Glendale, Middle Village,
Jackson Heights and Corona, which used to be havens for Italians, Germans,
Irish and other working class immigrant populations. Those populations have
moved East or out of New York State . . . We see Korean populations that
used to live in Flushing moving further down Northern Boulevard to
Douglaston and Little Neck. These people have been in the country for
several years, and are affluent enough to move. Chinese immigrants are now
Besides internal population shifts,
Salvo said there has been a “tremendous amount of immigration from South
Asia, the Caribbean and South America.” The neighborhoods that show this
the most are Woodhaven and Richmond Hill in Community District 9, according
to Salvo, who said, “Those areas have seen unbelievable growth and a
complete change in its population.”
In 1990, the Census numbers show whites
outnumbering Hispanics in the area two to one, and the Asian population was
less than 10 percent. In 2000, Hispanics outnumbered whites, and the Asian
population doubled with Guyanese immigration increasing.
Farthing mentioned the change in
Bellerose. “That change was overnight,” he said, “In 1990, that area
was almost all white. Now, it’s mostly South Asian. Indians and Pakistani
people have moved in and taken over the stores. It’s truly fascinating
what happened there.”
The independent firm Claritas – a San
Francisco based company that analyzes Census figures every 10 years –
conducted an extensive study of Census demographics, and announced in July
2001 that Queens is the most diverse county of over 250,000 people in the
The study, conducted every 10 years,
measures the probability that two randomly selected people from a county are
of different ethnicities. Queens scored the highest probability for the
second straight Census count.
Although Claritas Director of Demography
Ken Hodges said it would be “impossible” to judge if Queens is the most
diverse place on Earth, he admitted, “Based on international studies that
I’ve seen, the United States is the most diverse country in the world, so
if Queens is the most ethnically diverse in the United States, it would make
sense that it’s the most diverse place on the planet. But there’s no way
to say that for sure . . . You can just assume.”
Salvo assumed there is no “real way” to tell if Queens is the most diverse place on the planet, but said, “It would be up there for sure.”
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