Sustained Increases in Racial & Ethnic Diversity in Chelan & Douglas Counties

by Kelley Cullen, PhD

The last decade has seen increasing racial diversity of population throughout the country. As a result of increased immigration and since native-born, nonwhite fertility rates are higher than whites, the national share of nonwhites has increased. Communities have recognized the many cultural, educational and economic benefits of racial and ethnic diversity. Particularly, both the private and public sectors look at local levels of racial and ethnic diversity that match, or approximate, national averages as critical to business location decisions and grants awards.

How is diversity measured?

One popular way to measure racial and ethnic diversity in a community is to use the share of the nonwhite population as a yardstick. An increase in the non-white population over time broadly suggests that racial and ethnic diversity has increased. City and county levels can be benchmarked with state and national levels at any point in time.

The Trends offers  two indicators that provide the data for measuring racial and ethnic diversity of communities in this fashion.  Indicator 0.2.2: Non-White Population as a Percentage of Total Population measures the percentage of the population that fall under a racial category other than non-Hispanic white. Three groups of non-white population are provided: (1) Hispanic-Latinos (from any race), (2) African-American, Asian, Native American, & (3) Other; and of Two or More Races.

Additionally, Indicator 0.2.3: Non-White Population as a Share of Total Population, by Race provides more comparative data about four racial groups in the population: (1) American Indian/Alaskan Natives; (2) Asians & Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders; (3) Blacks; and (4) Other & Two or More Races. This indicator can show which of the racial groups may be growing faster relative to the others – for example, across the board, larger amounts of population are identifying as Other & Two or More Races.

The indicators, taken together, provide a look at how Chelan and Douglas Counties, both individually and combined, along with the Cities of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee, have seen significant changes in non-white population benchmarked with Washington State and the United States.

How are we doing?

Overall, the non-white population in Chelan & Douglas counties combined has steadily risen in the last decade from 26% to 34% of the total population – increasing from one-in-four people to now one of every three people in the counties combined are non-white. This growth was faster than both the state and nation. Chelan & Douglas counties combined have a slightly larger proportion of non-white populations than Washington State (32%), but are slightly lower than the United States (39.6%).  The largest growth in racial and ethnic diversity was within the Hispanic population which increased over seven percentage points to 30% of the total population in the combined counties. The proportion of Hispanic population in the combined counties is much larger than both Washington State (13%) and the US (18%).

Whereas the combined counties have seen a larger and increasing proportion of Hispanic population, the proportion of African-American, Asian & Native American population (3%) is much smaller than the state (14%) or national (19%) levels. And there has been only a small uptick (less than 1%) since 2007. The share of population for the combined counties that is in the Other & Two or More Races group (1.4%) has essentially remained unchanged (within the margin of error) since 2007. Both Washington State (5%) and the United States (2.5%) are higher, but still in single digits.

Considered separately, Douglas County has a slightly larger proportion of non-white population than neighboring Chelan County (35% vs. 32%), some of it showing up in a higher Hispanic population (32% for Douglas County compared to 28% for Chelan County. In contrast, Chelan County has a relatively higher proportion of African-American / Asian American / Native American population than Douglas County.

It is not surprising that the urban population is more racially and ethnically diverse. For example, the City of Wenatchee (40.2%) and the City of East Wenatchee (36.5%) have higher proportions of non-white populations than their respective counties. The City of East Wenatchee saw a greater increase in the Hispanic share of total population over the last decade and has narrowed the gap between the two cities.

What are the Implications?

The overall increase in racial and ethnic diversity measured by the steadily increasing non-white share of total population, has important implications for both education and business. One potential area of concern is the lower median household income (MHI) for Hispanic households.  Whereas median household income for everyone in Chelan-Douglas counties combined was approximately $60,000 in 2019, Hispanic households in Chelan County had a median MHI of only $47,000 (Wenatchee $42,000) and Douglas County was only slightly better at $53,000 (East Wenatchee at $51,500). If increases in Hispanic population continues to be accompanied by lower incomes, this could place a strain on resources devoted to mitigating the effects of poverty.

On the other hand, one way to combat poverty is education. Hispanic/Latinx students already make up about half of all students in both the Wenatchee School District and Eastmont School District in East Wenatchee. In Wenatchee SD, approximately one-in-four students is an English Language Learner (ELL) and in Eastmont SD about 16% of students are ELL. As more students of color graduate from high school and beyond, the work force will likely look different as younger Hispanic individuals choose different, higher paying careers than their parents. The good news is that Eastmont SD (East Wenatchee), the Class of 2020 graduated 94% of Hispanic students compared to 89% of white students. Wenatchee SD had slightly lower graduation rates for Hispanic students, 81% compared to 86% for white students.

The increasing non-white population will also lead to more minority-owned businesses in the community – in fact, in East Wenatchee, one-in-five businesses (20%) is minority owned, according to the US Census Bureau’s “Survey of Business Owners.” This exceeds the Washington State average of 17%. In Wenatchee, the proportion is smaller (14%) but growing. As the racial and ethnic diversity continues to increase in the cities and their respective counties, the percentage of minority owned businesses might approach the national level which is currently close to 30%.