Census data shows that children make up the most diverse part of the state’s population

By: - September 1, 2021 5:58 am
Bags and backpacks hang on hooks in a school hallway

“The most diverse part of the population is the youngest part of the population,” said UNH demographer Ken Johnson. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

This story was updated at 10:20 a.m. on Sept. 1 to clarify that City Year brings coaches to work in schools, not teachers.

When Eva Castillo came to the United States from her home country of Venezuela, she wasn’t planning to stay. But life happened. She met her husband, a Manchester native, and over the years the city has become her home.

Castillo has been working for decades to help other immigrants who come to the state feel at home here, too – now as the director of the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees.

It turns out that’s no easy task – but it may be more important than ever.

Recent census data shows that the state is diversifying fast. For the first time, less than 90 percent of New Hampshire residents are white; in the past 10 years alone, the percentage of white residents has dropped from 94 percent to 87 percent.

And among the child population in the state, the shift is even more dramatic. New Hampshire’s population of minority children has grown by almost 50 percent, or about 16,800 more children of color between 2010 and 2021. Now, minorities make up 20.2 percent of the population under 18. In Nashua and Manchester, that number is over 30 percent.

“The most diverse part of the population is the youngest part of the population,” said UNH demographer Ken Johnson. That trend is true across the country. For now, New Hampshire remains one of the whitest states in the nation, but if the population continues to grow, it is minorities who will likely be driving that growth. 

Most of New Hampshire’s modest growth over the past decade came from migration – although it is unknown how much of that is due to people coming from other countries versus people moving to New Hampshire from other states. Johnson said he’ll be watching for that data.

For Castillo, the news that the state is diversifying is exciting, but it also means there’s a lot of work to be done.

“It’s a systemic issue across the board that people are not ready to see us as equals,” Castillo said. A big source of frustration, she said, is that immigrants who come with college degrees from another country are still only able to land jobs doing menial work.

“They still have the image that we come here needy, that we’re unprepared, and people won’t give you the chance to get a professional job,” she said.

Manchester, where Castillo has lived since 1982, is among the state’s cities with the most diversity, along with Nashua. The census data shows areas of the Seacoast and Grafton County diversifying as well, so some pockets of the state are becoming more diverse than others, a trend that Johnson said tracks nationally. Castillo said this is reflected in her work as well, attributing it to families and communities using word of mouth, which can draw newcomers to already diverse areas where they may have a family member.  

For Castillo, the state’s growing diversity means education is especially important – and she said things like the recently passed and hotly debated divisive concepts legislation are barriers to frank conversations in schools about diversity and inclusion.

Education and civic engagement

Ronelle Tshiela was in middle school when her family moved to New Hampshire from Atlanta. As a Black student in the Manchester public school system, she said there weren’t a lot of teachers who looked like her. That made school hard in surprising ways – like accessing higher level classes.

“It’s really difficult to be a Black student in the Manchester School District,” she said. In part, she attributes that to policies like the presence of school resource officers, which she saw as more harmful to students of color than to white students.   

Tshiela, who went on to be a co-founder of the Manchester chapter of Black Lives Matter, described a friend’s experience showing up to a higher-level class for which he was enrolled and having the teacher tell him he was in the wrong class.

“There was nothing to differentiate between him and other students except for the color of his skin,” Tshiela said.

Tshiela said the news of a diversifying New Hampshire means the state needs to look at policies that will make the state a good home for people of color. While she welcomes the change, it also brings some worries about what it will mean for the ongoing fight for racial justice in the state – like a prison population that is already disproportionately made up of people of color.

She’s now in her first year of law school at the UNH campus in Concord. There, too, she’s noticed how few faculty of color there are.

That problem – the lack of diversity among teachers Tshiela encountered in both high school and law school – is one that Pawn Nitichan has long been working to address. Nitichan, who moved to the United States from her home country of Thailand, is the executive director of City Year, an organization that brings student coaches with diverse backgrounds to Manchester.

“One of the things that we can do, based on research, is to ensure that we have greater representations of adults in school,” Nitichan said. “Students do better when they have adults that they can relate to.”

Nitichan said that means recruiting more diverse talented teachers and school administrators for schools that have more diverse student populations. Right now, she estimates that anywhere from 75 to 85 percent of the people who serve in City Year are coming from out of state. Her hope is that the program can successfully create a pipeline so these young people will stay.

Having diverse teachers is just one piece of a bigger education puzzle that includes things like curricular considerations and professional development for teachers, but Nitichan says it’s a complicated piece, in part because the student population is more diverse than the general population.

That’s reflected in the latest census data as well. Johnson, the demographer with UNH, explained that the reason the percentage of minority children has gone up is because there are fewer white children – down by 19 percent from 2010. That’s because there are fewer white women of childbearing age and more minority women of childbearing age, both in New Hampshire and in the United States more broadly.

Policy considerations for school-age kids will be important, especially in light of data on learning disparities that fall along racial lines.

“If we’re looking at the data, nationally or otherwise, students that are furthest away from succeeding are minority students, Black and brown students, New American students,” Nitichan said.

The census data is also important for understanding civic engagement. A recent Civic Health Index released by the Carsey School of Public Policy at UNH found that New Hampshire ranked in the bottom five in the nation when it comes to interaction with people of a different racial or ethnic background.

“We’re very siloed in homogeneous ways,” said Quixada Moore-Vissing, one of the co-authors of the index. “In New Hampshire, we’re not interacting with people outside of our racial and ethnic backgrounds, and that was a concern for us for a variety of reasons.”

The index also found important correlations between race and both health and income.

“The paychecks of African Americans in New Hampshire are 39 percent smaller than those of whites, one of the largest income gaps among the 50 states,” according to the index. And around 15 percent fewer African Americans have a bachelor’s degree compared to the state’s white population.  

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.

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