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The Most Diverse States in America

Stirring the Melting Pot

Almost everyone in the world, no matter where they were born, knows the story of the early U.S. as one of multiculturalism. But immigration in the U.S. is still a contentious issue, with racism still very much a reality and the recession bringing a renewed focus on the demographics of the workforce.

But as with everything in this federation of states, the story is not the same everywhere. Border states like Texas, Arizona and California are tasked with enforcing much of the country’s immigration policy, while states with large urban areas like San Francisco and New York City are forced to integrate immigrants into often-scarce real estate.

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Measuring Multiculturalism

To compare the multiculturalism of all states in the union and Washington, D.C., MainStreet looked at the most recent figures from the American Community Survey (2009) and compared three-year averages for each state’s white population (to rank the proportion of the nonwhite population), foreign-born population (to get the population from other countries regardless of race) and mixed-race population (to see which state has the most people claiming two or more races).

Each state was ranked in each category, with the combination of all three rankings determining its position on this list. We count down from 10 to one, so read to the end to find the most diverse state in the U.S.

We also broke down the Least Diverse States in America, and the comparisons are telling.

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10th Most Diverse: Washington

Rank, highest nonwhite population (2007-2009): 27th

Rank, highest foreign-born population (2007-2009): 15th

Rank, highest mixed-race population (2007-2009): 4th

One of three states on the West Coast, Washington state also shares a border with Canada, though it’s hard to say how that has affected its immigrant population. The state has long been a destination for Asian immigrants from the other side of the Pacific Ocean, though the Asian population (7%) came in second behind the population of Hispanic or Latino origin (10.3%) in 2009.

Washington’s highest ranking is as the state with the fourth-highest proportion of residents identifying themselves as two or more races (4%), perhaps a reflection of its long history of immigration.

Photo Credit: dhrerra_96

9th Most Diverse: Virginia

Rank, highest nonwhite population (2007-2009): 14th

Rank, highest foreign-born population (2007-2009): 16th

Rank, highest mixed-race population (2007-2009): 15th

The state of Virginia makes the top 10 thanks to decent rankings in each of the three measures of diversity in our analysis. While it doesn’t stand out in any of them, the state’s border with Washington, D.C., the seat of foreign embassies and a plethora of international organizations like the World Bank and the IMF, likely contributes to its diverse population.

The state’s largest nonwhite population group, by far, is the black community, which made up 20% of the resident population in 2009, considerably more than the national average of 12.9%.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Johnson

8th Most Diverse: Arizona

Rank, highest nonwhite population (2007-2009): 23rd

Rank, highest foreign-born population (2007-2009): 8th

Rank, highest mixed-race population (2007-2009): 12th

Home to former presidential candidate John McCain, Arizona has been in the public eye more than once for its harsh approach to immigrants. Its support of a controversial border fence to stem illegal immigration from Mexico was backed by legislation passed last year, which many thought unfairly targeted Latinos, who made up more than 30% of the state’s population in 2009.

Note: Arizona's combined score tied New York's (next slide). It is ranked below the Empire State because two of New York's associated rankings were in the top 10, while only one of Arizona's broke the top 10 for the category.

Photo Credit: Ken Lund

7th Most Diverse: New York

Rank, highest nonwhite population (2007-2009): 8th

Rank, highest foreign-born population (2007-2009): 2nd

Rank, highest mixed-race population (2007-2009): 32nd

The only surprise about New York’s inclusion on this list is the state’s failure to break even the top five for diversity. New York City, a metropolis of 8 million people, includes more than 3 million born outside the U.S. With an overall foreign population of more than 20% in 2009, the state has the second-highest proportion of foreign-born residents in the country.

Note: New York's combined score tied Arizona's (previous slide). It is ranked higher because two of New York's associated rankings were in the top 10, while only one of Arizona's broke the top 10 for the category.

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6th Most Diverse: New Mexico

Rank, highest nonwhite population (2007-2009): 15th

Rank, highest foreign-born population (2007-2009): 18th

Rank, highest mixed-race population (2007-2009): 9th

Like its neighbor Arizona, New Mexico finds itself on the forefront of immigration debates, and may be a portent of the changing demographics of the country as a whole. Constant immigration from Mexico has actually led to a higher proportion of Hispanic or Latino residents than non-Hispanic whites in the state, measuring 45.6% and 40.9% in 2009, respectively.

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5th Most Diverse: Alaska

Rank, highest nonwhite population (2007-2009): 10th

Rank, highest foreign-born population (2007-2009): 24th

Rank, highest mixed-race population (2007-2009): 2nd

With an American Indian/Alaska Native population amounting to 15.2% of the state’s almost 700,000 people in 2009, Alaska has seen plenty of intermingling among its population, leading to its second-highest proportion of mixed-race residents.

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4th Most Diverse: Maryland

Rank, highest nonwhite population (2007-2009): 4th

Rank, highest foreign-born population (2007-2009): 13th

Rank, highest mixed-race population (2007-2009): 17th

In a story similar to Virginia’s, the fourth most diverse state also owes much of its identity to neighboring Washington, D.C. The Maryland suburbs of Potomac and Bethesda have long been known for their multicultural populations, as foreigners who come to work for D.C.’s international organizations settle in the state next door.

Maryland’s highest ranking comes in the proportion of its nonwhite population (fourth-highest in the U.S.), as its black population comprised almost 30% of state residents in 2009.

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3rd Most Diverse: Nevada

Rank, highest nonwhite population (2007-2009): 20th

Rank, highest foreign-born population (2007-2009): 4th

Rank, highest mixed-race population (2007-2009): 7th

Bringing us into the top three is Nevada, the state that experienced the most dramatic growth in population between 2000 and 2010, at 32.3%. A landlocked state, Nevada has nevertheless been able to assemble a multicultural population, with top 10 rankings in both foreign-born population and the mixed-race population.

With 19.2% of residents born outside the U.S. and 3.2% identifying themselves as more than one race in 2009, it appears that the neon lights of Las Vegas have attracted people of all backgrounds.

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2nd Most Diverse: California

Rank, highest nonwhite population (2007-2009): 5th

Rank, highest foreign-born population (2007-2009): 1st

Rank, highest mixed-race population (2007-2009): 5th

Coming in at an unsurprising second place is California, whose border with Mexico and huge expanse of coastline have made it the first point of entry for a huge number of immigrants over the years. Ranking first in the nation for its foreign-born population, California ranks fifth both for the proportion of its residents that are nonwhite and the proportion that are of mixed race.

The state’s 26.2% foreign-born residents in 2009 was more than double the national average of 11.1%, and its nonwhite population was more evenly distributed than most states’, with significant amounts of black people (6.6%), Asians (12.7%) and Latinos (37%) making up the state population.

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Most Diverse: Hawaii

Rank, highest nonwhite population (2007-2009): 1st

Rank, highest foreign-born population (2007-2009): 6th

Rank, highest mixed-race population (2007-2009): 1st

At the top of the list is, understandably, the state that lies farthest from the homeland: the volcanic island paradise of Hawaii. Ranking first for its nonwhite population (69.8% in 2009) and mixed-race population (18% in 2009), Hawaii is far above the national averages for all three categories.

It stands to reason, then, that Barack Obama, the country’s first mixed-race president (born to a white mother and black father), was born in the most diverse state in the union.

Photo Credit: BlueWaikiki.com

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