August 16, 2006


Caption: Some people are stumped by West Virginia's demographic trends.

West Virginia is something of a statistical oddity, which will come as no surprise to most West Virginians. On the one hand, it's a very rich state as far as natural resources go, although its people are among the poorest in the nation.

(Actually, that's not so unusual, but that topic will have to wait for another post.)

Secondly, we are a pretty heavily armed poor state with a low crime rate. Those three traits don't often go together.

Third, while we're at or near the bottom in terms of median income we're also at or near the top in terms of home ownership, although many of those homes don't keep a whole lot of the weather out.

The latest area in which we buck national trends has to do its immigrant population.

According to an Associated Press report on the latest Census data:

From South Carolina's budding immigrant population to the fast-rising number of Hispanics in Arkansas, minority groups make up an increasing share of the population in every state but one, according to figures released Tuesday by the Census Bureau.

"This is just an extraordinary explosion of diversity all across the United States," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "It's diversity and immigration going hand in hand."

West Virginia is the exception, with its struggling economy and little history of attracting immigrants.

(It would be more accurate to say "little recent history of attracting immigrants." In the past immigrants from Italy, Central Europe, and elsewhere contributed greatly to WV life and culture.)

The report also notes that "West Virginia, meanwhile, was one of only two states in which the percentage of white people grew. The other was Hawaii, where whites are an increasing minority."

Don't tell Lou Dobbs, but El Cabrero is a little disappointed about this. I have been painstakingly trying to learn Spanish, partly because they have some great swears and party because any language in which it's grammatically correct to use double negatives and say "y'all" (ustedes or vosotros) is a friend of mine.

I like nothing better than to torment native Spanish speakers. A Latina friend once told me "You've taken a perfectly good language and run it into the ground."

It looks like I'll have to hit the road to find fresh victims...

On a more serious note, lack of exposure to new and different people could put West Virginians at a disadvantage in an increasingly interconnected economy and a smaller world.

A while back, I spoke with a group of young people here about diversity. I figured they were tired of being preached to, so came up with four pretty practical reasons why it's a good thing.

1. In biology, diversity can mean survival. We learn from observing nature that any population that is homogeneous can be more vulnerable to changes in conditions or other threats than one that is more diverse. While arguments by analogy that jump from nature to society can be dangerous, that one seems pretty safe.

2. In life, not being exposed to things and people that are new and different is a good way to stop living at a very early age, even if death doesn't come for decades.

3. Groups that are homogeneous and isolated tend to share the same knowledge and information. New and useful information and ideas often come distant and/or different groups. The more plugged in people are to diverse networks, the more chance there is of learning. And

4. Open societies have a better chance of adapting and changing than closed ones. There are plenty of examples of this from history, but one that comes to mind at the moment is imperial Spain.

In 1492, while Columbus was sailing the ocean blue and preparing to unleash death and destruction on natives of the Caribbean, Spanish rulers began a campaign to drive out different people at home, in this case Jews and Muslims (even if they converted to Catholicism). Using methods that included horrible persecution, they "succeeded"--and paid for it with stagnation for the next several hundred years.

Meanwhile, for the latest Census snapshot of the state, click here.


1 comment:

jennyville said...

Fear not - diversity is on the way. In Hardy County, the hispanics are literally flooding in.