Surrounded by a sea of racial segregation, Oak Park’s status as a stable, racially integrated community continues to be fragile — so fragile that it is crucial that the media accurately and precisely report the results of the 2010 census. That fragility is why full funding for organizations like the Oak Park Regional Housing Center is so crucial to Oak Park’s short- and long-term success.
But Wednesday Journal dropped the ball last month when it hinted at massive demographic change over the past 10 years in Oak Park [Black population in Oak Park drops for the first time in decades, News, Feb. 16]. A careful analysis of the data shows that the opposite is true.
The Journal inaccurately reported that in 2010 Oak Park was 63.8 percent white, 21.2 percent African-American, and 4.8 percent Asian. It did get it right that Hispanics comprise 6.8 percent of Oak Park’s population. But the Journal mistakenly treated Hispanics as a race of their own. Latinos are an ethnic group and can be of any race — which is the way the U.S. Census Bureau reports it. Like elsewhere, about 90 percent of Oak Park’s Hispanic residents are white. By excluding Hispanics from the proportion of Caucasian residents, the Journal inadvertently gave the very misleading impression that nearly one-tenth of Oak Park’s white population had left the village since 2000.
Whites actually constituted 70.2 percent of Oak Park’s “one-race” population in 2010, down just 0.6 percent from 2000. African-Americans comprised 22.5 percent of the “one-race” population, also down only 0.6 percent from 2000. The proportion of Oak Park residents who are Asian rose from 4.3 to 5 percent. These figures are based on the total number of Oak Parkers reporting they are of “one race,” 51,044 in 2000 and 50,016 in 2010. Those are signs of the stable, racially — and ethnically — integrated community that Oak Park has become.
Calculating the proportion of Hispanics is based on the full population including multi-racial individuals, since Hispanics can be of any race. Between 2000 and 2010, the proportion of Oak Park that is Hispanic rose from 4.5 to 6.8 percent. Their raw numbers increased from 2,374 to 3,521, 48.3 percent, no different than the 47.25 percentage increase in River Forest, which the Journal did not note.
Instead of focusing on the proportion of Oak Park’s population that each racial and ethnic group comprised, the Journal focused on the percentage increase or decrease in each group’s population. It reported that the Asian population had increased 13.8 percent and the Hispanic population had increased a whopping 48.3 percent. But while the number of members of both groups increased, the proper figures to put these in perspective is that the proportion of Asians increased just 0.7 percentage points and the proportion of Hispanics increased by only 2.3 percentage points.
That’s the kind of incremental change typical of the sort of stable, racially — and now ethnically — integrated community that Oak Park has become. It is highly likely that Oak Park continues to be one of the handful of Chicagoland suburbs with a racial and ethnic composition you would expect in a free housing market devoid of discrimination, in which income determines who lives in the community. The 2010 census data is a cause for celebration that Oak Park continues to fulfill its long-time goal of diversity.
River Forester Daniel Lauber is a city-planning consultant and fair housing attorney who was a primary author of Oak Park’s 1979 comprehensive plan. He served on the Oak Park Regional Housing Center’s board for eight years.