Arp: Are They Lying to Us About a City’s Growth?
by Jason Arp
Every 10 years in this country a census has been taken since 1790. This decennial census was created for the purpose of establishing and maintaining congressional districts and has ben used by states, counties and municipalities for their own redistricting needs. From the beginning there were data needs besides simply counting the residents. Since the Constitution originally had partial representation for slaves (three-fifth compromise) they needed to be counted in the census. Over the years, as government continued to add complexity and differentiation based on characteristics such as sex and race more and more data has been collected. The Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 and the 1986 Supreme Court ruling in Thornburg vs. Gingles have impacted the usage of the census demographic data, creating the mandate for majority-minority districts. Thus, special attention is paid to race in application of census data to the challenge of redistricting.
In 2022, the Fort Wayne City Council went through its redistricting utilizing the most recent 2020 U.S. Census data and the 2010 data as a baseline. The data we were supplied is down to the census tract, which is slightly smaller than a zip code area but larger than a precinct. This allows council members the ability to make rather precise adjustments if needed to council district boundaries to satisfy the mandates of nearly equally populated districts and maintaining districts that are not in violation of the 1965 VRA. The data sets are available to the public here.
Being on the redistricting committee in 2021 and as Council President in 2022 I was involved in going through this process for the city. I was struck by how this data laid bare the lie that the local eco-devo cartel continues to peddle that the massive government subsidies to commercial real estate has brought people to Fort Wayne and has encouraged people to move into the central city. Even a cursory examination of the statistics shows that the district that is home to our downtown, which has seen nearly a billion dollars of subsidy over the last 10 years, was the only district to outright lose population despite the many apartment building projects. The second thing that sticks out is the rapid growth in the population from Southeast Asia. This can be nearly completely attributed to the Burmese population introduced by Catholic Charities. Fort Wayne grew by 10,000 people in the census period. 7,000 of those new inhabitants are refugees. So, the idea that these folks were attracted to our community by the shining new office complexes just doesn’t’ hold water.
An anomaly that jumped off the page was the drastic decline in what the Census Bureau reported as the “white” population of Fort Wayne. A decline of 15,477 or 8.3 percent from 186,731 in 2010 to 171,254 in 2020. Further investigation revealed similar drops nationwide with the United States losing some 19 million white residents, a decline of 8.6 percent. It turns out that the way Hispanic people are counted has changed, and now large increase in the “two-races” subcategory for white and “other” had growth that explains most of the drop in the white population in the national data set. It is known that 6,100 of the 15,500 decline of white alone in Fort Wayne can be attributed to this change related to identification of Hispanic people. There was a 2,000-person increase in those identifying as two-races white/Native-American. That is likely residents changing their self-reported identity from 10 years ago. So for Fort Wayne, roughly half the decline in white population is merely reporting differences and not net migration or deaths. That leaves an unattributed decline in the white alone population of about 7,000. Lastly the other demographic with a material change was “other” which had 56 percent growth to 14,724. This may or may not be related to the reclassification of some individuals, or actual increase in population to the city in this category.
The Census Bureau divides the population into seven categories on the basis of race. Those groups are White, Black, Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander, Other and Two-or-more. Those with positive growth were Black (+3.1%), Native American (+38.4%), Asian (+82.5%), Other (+56 percent) and Two-or-more (+131.7 percent). The only cohorts with declines in population were White (-8.3 percent) and Pacific Islander (-22.1 percent)
The following chart summarizes the top-line categories for which Census publishes data:
The American Community Survey is a more frequent exercise the U.S. Census Bureau conducts. It has a lot of data about economic factors and more descriptive statistics such as marriage, education and employment. One element of concern in this data set is that Fort Wayne is falling further behind the rest of the state in average household income. In 2010 the median household income in Indiana was $44,613 where by 2020 it had increased some 30.5 percent to $58,235. Contrast that with Fort Wayne where median household income in 2010 was $42,609 and grew to $51,454 by 2020, an increase of only 20.8 percent. Clearly the narrative that somehow Fort Wayne is doing it right, while lagging the state in median household income growth by 32 percent is ludicrous.
In sum, the Census Bureau data easily dispels the narrative that the public-private-partnerships pushed by Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and others has created growth in our city. The data shows that incomes are lagging the state, that the population growth has largely come from refugees and it is likely the city has experienced a sizable decline in what the Census Bureau describes as it’s white population (perhaps 4 to 5 percent). All that despite over a billion dollars in downtown redevelopment efforts.
Jason Arp, for nine years a trader in mortgaged-backed securities for Bank of America, was reelected last year to a second term representing the 4th District on the Fort Wayne City Council and is now a candidate for mayor. He is the designer of the legislative scoring system, IndianaScorecard.org. A version of this essay originally appeared in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
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