What the 2020 census tells us, at a glance

The Census Bureau released the long-delayed decennial census data Thursday, a key factor in how federal, state and local funds are appropriated. It also triggers a new round of redistricting, in which state lawmakers draw maps for voting districts.

How does the census work?

The census counts every person living in the U.S. at their residence, defined as where they sleep. For example, college students get counted in their dorms and people who are incarcerated in their facilities.

As NPR reported, the census has a few caveats: First, some people of color are likely undercounted. Second, the census questionnaire asked about people’s identification of Hispanic or Latino origin in separate questions. This could skew the data about people of Hispanic origin because many households did not respond to both questions. The two-question design is also found to produce less accurate data compared to one question that includes all categories of race and ethnicity.

In addition, because of inconsistencies in people’s interpretations of race and ethnicity, as well as their identities, the self-reported race and ethnicity of someone can change from one census to another.

Race, ethnicity and Hispanic or Latino origin

The majority racial group in North Carolina is still white. Close to 60% of the state identifies as non-Hispanic white, a decrease from 70% in 2000.

The non-Hispanic Black population makes up 20%, followed by 10.7% for Hispanic or Latino origin.

People who identify as only Asian compose 3.3% of North Carolinians, a 64% increase from the last census.

Populations in other racial groups grew at a much slower pace. The American Indian and Alaska Native population increased by 6.5%. North Carolinians who identify as Black or African American alone grew by 4.5%.

Those who identify as two or more races grew by 245% statewide from the last census.

The racial designation is self-reported. People of two or more races are counted in the multi-racial category.

The Census Bureau will include more detailed counts of individual ethnic groups in a later release.

The Census Bureau developed a diversity index, which shows the likelihood of two randomly selected people being of different race and ethnicity groups. North Carolina’s diversity index trended upward toward higher diversity, from 52.1% to 57.9%, though still lower than the national average of 61.1%.


Statewide, the population grew by 9.5% from 9.03 million to nearly 10.44 million from 2010 to 2020.

Wake County’s population count (1,129,410) exceeded that of Mecklenburg county (1,115,482) for the first time.

Johnston (28%), Brunswick (27%), Cabarrus (27%), Wake (25%) and Durham (21%) are the fastest-growing counties in the state of North Carolina, according to data compiled by Carolina Demography of UNC-Chapel Hill.

Tyrell and Hyde, the two least populous counties also reported the largest population decrease statewide, of 26% and 21% respectively.

In total, population grew in 51 counties and dipped in 49 counties.

“More counties than expected lost population and the losses were larger than expected,” Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography wrote on the center’s blog. For example, Robeson County lost nearly 17,000 residents, Tippett told Policy Watch. She said her team will release more findings about what the population losses mean.


Charlotte tops the chart of the city population, with 874,579 residents, followed by Raleigh at 467,665. Greensboro, Durham, Winston-Salem and Fayeteville are in the 200,000 to 300,000 range.

The growth of the Hispanic population seems to drive the growth of many cities with over 100,000 residents.

Voting and redistricting

78% of North Carolina residents are of voting age.

You can find our earlier reporting on voter turnout in 2020.

North Carolina’s congressional, and state legislative districts have varying degrees of overpopulation and underpopulation, compared to the baseline set by the constitutional requirement of equal population. Therefore, state legislators will need to redraw district boundaries to account for the population change.

North Carolina gained its 14th congressional seat. The number of state House and Senate seats remain unchanged — 120 and 50 respectively. That means ideally, each House district should contain 86,995 residents and Senate district 208,788.

The legislature is responsible for drawing the voting districts lines, a contentious process. The final version of the redistricting maps are due in November, as Policy Watch previously reported.

Group quarters

Also it’s the first time the Census Bureau has included the count of people in group quarters such as institutionalized settings, like prisons and jails, nursing homes and juvenile facilities, as well as settings such as university student housing and military bases. This population makes up 2.7% of the state total.

On April 1, 2020, North Carolina had an institutionalized population of 112,229, with 59,0999 in correctional facilities. 36,715 were counted at military bases.

You can explore more about your communities’ demographics, diversity, as well as quick facts using Census Bureau tools.

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What the 2020 census tells us, at a glance