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Census Behind The Numbers
Counting Queens Diversity
And Loving Every Minute


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 PRESS, "I love studying Queens . . . [it is] completely different than any other borough."

Jackson Heights is "the most ethnically diverse area in Queens," according to Census experts, who say more ethnic communities live there than anywhere else in the borough.
PRESS Photo By Ira Cohen

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 at Queens."

The Trouble With Love

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.

Just the Facts

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.

While Korean signs used to dominate the streets of Flushing, Chinese stores now thrive, census statistics show.
PRESS Photo By Ira Cohen

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 foreign-born.

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.

Simply The Most Diverse

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."

The African Queen in Jamaica features an array of West African and
Caribbean items.
PRESS Photo By Ira Cohen

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."

Habla Español?

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 comprehensive count."

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 Queens.

Salvo said, "Queens is even more diverse than the statistics show."

The People in Your Neighborhood

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 PRESS, " 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 in Flushing."

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.

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.

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 Private Opinion

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 country.

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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