Part of the traditional charm of our community has to do with the way it built out rapidly and fully before World War II. Despite inevitable growth and development, and sometimes heart-rending change, the built environment in our towns has maintained its early 20th century character. With some significant changes, they have also maintained their longstanding demographic diversity.
Many neighboring towns, and American suburbs and exurbs generally, grew rapidly 30 or more years later, reflecting significant social and demographic shifts through the latter half of the 20th century, while creating distinct patterns of racial and income segregation and re-segregation. In recent years, rapid globalization, increasing income inequality, and political polarization have brought questions of diversity to the fore. And, at the dawn of the 21st century, Maplewood and South Orange’s diversity became notable.
As the varied housing stock and lot sizes in our towns tell, Maplewood and South Orange have, since their rapid development in the 20s and 30s, encompassed a large socioeconomic range of households. Broadly middle class for decades, with a median income that trends about 50% above the state average, but at least 50% below some of our western neighbors, our towns have long included the affluent, the middle class, the upwardly mobile, and the struggling.
On many demographic measures, Maplewood has been fairly stable for more than 50 years. (I use specific numbers for Maplewood here, but South Orange patterns are mostly similar.) Total population runs about 23,000. About 20% of households are, and have long been, rentals. The percentage of children under 18 has waxed and waned some, and is currently a bit above state and national averages at 28%. About 40% of households have a child under 18. The percentage of residents over 65 has likewise varied slightly in a narrow range over 50 years. Currently at 11% it remains proportional to the state and national rates (13%), and between a fifth and a quarter of households include a senior citizen.
While Maplewood and South Orange were nearly 100% white at mid-century, and more than 90% white until 1990, there was considerable ethnic diversity—several major national groups (more than 10% of the total) and many smaller ones—and our foreign born population has run about double the national average for decades. In 1970, even as the foreign born population hit its low point nationally (5%) it was 11% in Maplewood. In 2010, the national rate is 12% and Maplewood’s is nearly 20%.
As early as 1970, Maplewood began to integrate racially; in 1970 just under 2% of the population was black. (Other racial/ethnic groups did not yet have even that minor presence.) The black population more than doubled in each of the next decades, tripled between 1990 and 2000, and then leveled off in 2010 at around a third of total population. Hispanic and Asian populations became measurable by 1990 at around 3% each. The Hispanic population has since grown slowly to around 7% while the Asian population has held steady. And in the past decade, the new census category of “two or more races” has also run at 3%-4%.
In the cycle of generational succession, each new generation tended to be higher earning than the one it replaced. Because there was no prior black community to join when black families began moving to town, at various times between 1970 and 2000, median black income (for families, for couples without children, for single mothers) was substantially higher than that of their white counterparts. As the black community expanded, it encompassed a broader range of socioeconomic backgrounds. It also became increasingly diverse ethnically, split between “native born black” and 1st or 2nd generation West Indian or Sub Saharan African (both of which census categories obscure a range of linguistic and national identities). And by 2010 about 13% of the population over 65 was black.
Thus, by 2010, the black community in our towns was very similar to the historical white community: heavily middle class, multi-generational, and representing several major ethnic, linguistic, and national origins. Though still relatively small, Hispanic and Asian populations also show significant ethnic and national diversity. And while ethnicity tends to be less salient after the 3rd generation (thus making white ethnic identity increasingly less pronounced), around 8% of Maplewood’s white population is foreign born, a level similar to that of 50 years ago.
Maplewood “became” diverse when it began to include substantive numbers of what Canada rather directly calls “visible minorities”, especially black residents. The change was not always easy. There was much community discussion and fears of “white flight” led to the founding of community organizations to support integration and diversity.
Additionally, in 2000, the census made the first meaningful count of same-sex households. Maplewood became identified as a community with a higher than typical percentage of gay families. In some ways it was a natural fit. Gay couples were found to live in greater numbers in neighborhoods that are more urban, more diverse, and that have old housing stock. This became another facet of diversity in Maplewood/South Orange.
National trends show more racial and ethnic diversity almost everywhere over the last two decades. Immigration is up sharply, with most immigrants now from outside of Europe. However segregation levels for minority groups, especially blacks, remain high, and socioeconomic integration has decreased significantly over the past forty years.
In bucking those last two trends—racial and economic segregation—Maplewood and South Orange are indeed notably diverse.
US Census, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010
US Census American Community Survey 2005-2009