I’m answering your questions today about the Census and what the new population estimates say about San Diego County. I wanted to start with a question that sounds simple but actually isn’t: How many white people live here?

San Diego County became minority-majority last year, which is a catchier way of saying there were fewer white residents in the county than everyone else combined.

But as people discuss new population estimates released by the Census, it’s important to keep in mind that this measurement relies on one description of the white population. Another description doesn’t show the same picture.

When researchers, news media or others explain how many white people live in San Diego, they are either referring to racial or ethnic estimates. Race describes biological features, such as skin color, while ethnicity describes heritage, such as Mexican or Central American.

Because racial and ethnic definitions don’t perfectly overlap, it’s not uncommon for the census to count some residents as white through one definition and nonwhite through another. One of the clearest examples of this locally is National City.

The two pie charts below compare the largest racial and ethnic groups in National City last year. The city appears to have a large white population until you examine the ethnic breakdown. The difference illustrates how a large number of people identified themselves as being racially white (Caucasian) but ethnically Hispanic (Mexican, Central American, etc.). A light-skinned man whose ancestors lived in Guatemala, for example, could be counted as white under race and Hispanic under ethnicity if he identifies with his Guatemalan heritage.

So now let’s go back to San Diego County being “minority-majority.” This phrase describes the county’s ethnicity. Similar to National City, a countywide comparison of race shows a different picture, where white people continue to be the majority of residents.

The difference between race and ethnicity isn’t a secret, but it’s something that people (me included) occasionally gloss over when talking about population shifts in the county. It’s an important distinction to know, though, because each category says something different about the people who live here.

This post is part of The People’s Reporter: Census Edition. I’m taking your questions about the Census and trying to answer them as best I can. What do you want to know? Send an email to keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org

You can also contact Keegan Kyle directly at 619.550.5668 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/keegankyle.

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