The interplay between race, ethnicity, and economic progress in the U.S. has long been a complex and politically loaded one, even before the election of Donald Trump. As president, Trump’s embrace of white supremacists and controversial immigration policies have only brought America’s divisions further to the fore. But ethnic and racial diversity is a key factor in America’s economic growth. My own work has looked at the role of factors like openness to immigrants and gays and lesbians in the innovative quality and economic development of cities and metro areas.
I have previously covered the black and white racial divide in the creative class. Today, I want to turn more broadly to the racial and ethnic diversity of the creative class—the nearly 50 million American workers, who make up roughly a third of the United States workforce, spanning science and tech; business and management workers; and arts, design, and cultural creativity. Economist Todd Gabe of the University of Maine ran the numbers for all 350-plus U.S. metros based on data from the American Community Survey by the U.S. Census.
The Hispanic creative class
The first map shows the Hispanic share of the creative class across metros. This includes all Hispanic residents, regardless of skin color. On the map, dark purple indicates a high level of diversity, and lighter blue indicates low levels of it. Hispanics make up the greatest share of the creative class along the southern border areas of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, as one might expect, but also in parts of the Rockies, Florida, around Chicago in the Midwest, and along the Boston-New York-Washington Corridor.
There are two metros where Hispanic residents make up more than a third of the creative class: San Antonio and Miami. There are two more—Riverside and Los Angeles—where Hispanics make up a fifth to a quarter of the creative class. All of these are in the South and West. Older industrial metros tell the other side of this story: Hispanics make up just 1 and 2.5 percent of the creative class in these places, with Pittsburgh topping the least-diverse list.
Large metros with the most and least Hispanic creative class diversity
The Asian creative class
A map of the Asian share of the creative class across metros looks much the same: Again, there are large concentrations on the East and West Coasts, plus Texas. But now there are pockets in the South, Midwest, and Mountain states as well.
San Jose tops the list here: more than 40 percent of its creative class identifies as Asian. There are two more metros where Asians make up more than 20 percent of the creative class—San Francisco and Los Angeles. Among smaller metros, Honolulu and Kahului, Hawaii; Vallejo and Stockton, California; and Trenton, New Jersey stand out as places where Asians make up a large share of the creative class. On the opposite side of the ledger: Cincinnati is the metro where the Asians make up the smallest share of the creative class, followed by Memphis, Rochester, Indianapolis, and Providence. In these places, Asians make up roughly 2 or 3 percent of the creative class.
Large metros with the most and least Asian creative class diversity
Kansas City, MO
Creative class members who identify as two or more races
It’s also interesting to look at the metros where people of two races make up the largest share of the creative class. This map shows large concentrations on the East and West Coast as well as Texas and Oklahoma. Oklahoma City tops the list here, followed by Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle and Riverside. People who identify as two or more races make up 3 to 4 percent of the creative class in these metros.
On the flip side, people who identify as more than one race make up just one percent of the creative class in older, industrial Rust Belt places like Birmingham, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Buffalo.
The overall diversity of the creative class
The last map charts the Creative Class Diversity Index across metros. This index is a measure of the overall diversity of eight major ethnic and racial groups—white, black, non-white Hispanic, Asian, Hawaiian, Native American, people of two or more races, and “other.” A value of 87.5 indicates a metro that has an even distribution across these eight racial and ethnic categories.
The highest levels of creative class diversity are in the East Coast along the Boston-New York-Washington Corridor, through the Southeast and into Florida; in Texas and Arizona along the Mexican border, and then up along the West Coast, through California and into the Pacific Northwest.
Large metros with most and least diverse creative class
Most Diverse (Index)
Least Diverse (Index)
Salt Lake City
The metro with the most diverse creative class is Riverside in Southern California; Los Angeles is second; Miami, third; San Jose, fourth and Houston, fifth. San Antonio, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., San Diego, and New York round out the top ten. Still even in these places, whites make up more than 40 percent (San Jose, Miami, and Los Angeles), 50 percent (Riverside, Houston, San Antonio and San Francisco), even 60 percent of the creative class (New York, D.C., and San Diego).
On the flip side, whites make up 85 or 90 percent of the creative class in metros like Grand Rapids, Pittsburgh, Providence, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Rochester, and Buffalo. Smaller metros like Glen Falls, New York; Wheeling, West Virginia; Altoona and Johnstown, Pennsylvania; and Lewiston, Maine, are even less diverse: Here the creative class is more than 95 percent white.
Correlations with creative class diversity
But, what factors are associated with the diversity of the creative class? To get at this, my colleague Charlotta Mellander ran a basic correlation analysis between the overall Creative Class Diversity Index and key demographic, social and economic characteristics. As usual, I note that correlation does not imply causality and simply points to associations between variables.
Not surprisingly, metros with larger concentrations of key creative class minority groups have higher levels of overall creative class diversity. The Creative Class Diversity Index is positively associated with share of the creative class made up by African Americans (.51), Asians (.50), Hispanics (.44), and people of two or more races (.45). And again not surprisingly, it is even more highly negatively correlated with the creative class share that is white (-.88). Immigration factors in as well. The Creative Class Diversity Index is positively correlated with the foreign-born share of population (.64).
Greater creative class diversity is a feature of bigger denser metros, being positively associated with both metro population (.41) and density (.38). Big, dense metros are more diverse than smaller, sprawling ones. Metros with more creative class diversity are also more affluent, with a positive correlation to wages (.30). On the other hand, creative class diversity is negatively associated with metros that have larger shares of the working class (-.25).
Though the creative class is diverse, the cities they live in are still unequal and segregated: The Creative Class Diversity Index is positively correlated with income inequality (.32), wage inequality (.36), and economic segregation (.50).
The creative class is more diverse in larger, denser, more affluent metros and less so in smaller working-class places. As these larger, denser, more diverse metros places gain economic ground, smaller, whiter, more working-class places seem to fall behind. This underpins a confounding of diversity and economic progress underpins our cultural sort. Diversity spurs economic progress; sameness spells economic segregation. Even the winners of the knowledge economy suffer from America’s cultural divides.