At least one white man is known to have moved out of Arcata in the last 10 years, but the town’s booming. File photo: Andrew Goff.


Yesterday the U.S. Census Bureau released the local-level numbers from the 2020 Census. These numbers go all the way down to the neighborhood and block in each community, and so give us our first look at how the county — and each town or neighborhood therein — has grown or shrunk, population-wise, since 2010.

The main purpose of the current data release is to give people in charge of drawing new political lines — Congressional districts, state Senate and assembly districts, Board of Supervisors districts, city wards, etc. — time to get them in place well in advance of the 2022 elections. Most jurisdictions are required by law to redraw the lines every 10 years, after the Census, in order to ensure equal representation.

We’re going to be taking a look at that aspect of Humboldt County’s census results next week. First up, though, we’re going to take the 10,000-foot view at our new demographic reality.

According to the Census Bureau, Humboldt County grew just a little bit since the last decennial count. Its best estimate is that we now have 136,463 residents, up from 134,623 in 2010.

That amounts to a 1.4 percent population increase over 10 years — much slower growth than California as a whole, which grew by about 6.1 percent over the same period, or the nation, which grew by about 6.3 percent.

Meanwhile, the population of the county’s incorporated cities variously swung up and down, sometimes wildly.

Total Population, 2010-2020
HUMBOLDT COUNTY 134,623 136,463 +1.4%
EUREKA 27,191 26,512 -2.5%
ARCATA 17,231 18,857 +9.4%
FORTUNA 11,926 12,516 +4.9%
RIO DELL 3,368 3,379 +0.3%
FERNDALE 1,371 1,398 +2.0%
BLUE LAKE 1,253 1,208 -3.6%
TRINIDAD 367 307 -16.3%

The top line, here, has gotta be the big population boom in Arcata and the more modest one in Fortuna, coupled with the fact that Eureka shrank a bit. Tiny Trinidad got relatively much tinier — probably, as a local would surely tell you, thanks to the Airbnb boom in that picturesque seaside village.

Another key component of the data released yesterday: Race and ethnicity. Redistricting bodies such as the California Citizens Redistricting Commission are required by the Voting Rights Act to not use the redistricting process to dilute the power of certain protected classes, including racial and ethnic minorities. So the Census Bureau passes on that data at this time as well.

What does it show in Humboldt? That we have become pretty markedly less white than we were even 10 years ago! Ten percent fewer Humboldters identified as “white, non-Hispanic” in the 2020 census than they did in 2010. 

Meanwhile, every other major racial/ethnic group jumped up very dramatically. The number of people who identified as belonging to “two or more races” more than doubled. Half again as many people said they belonged to “some other race” — i.e., not white, Black, Native American, Asian or Pacific Islander.

Humboldt Race and Ethnicity, 2010-2020
WHITE, NON-HISPANIC103,958 93,316-10.2%
HISPANIC or LATINO13,211 18,535 +40.3%
BLACK or AFRICAN AMERICAN1,505 1,879+24.9%
ASIAN 2,944 3,615+22.8%
SOME OTHER RACE 5,0037,782 +55.5%
TWO OR MORE RACES7,173 16,156 +125.2%

(A note here: “Ethnicity,” in Census Bureau terms, consists of two choices — Hispanic or non-Hispanic. “Race” consists of the other choices listed above, sometimes in combination, and includes that “some other race” category, which The Atlantic explained and explored at this link.)

Why the huge decline in the white, non-Hispanic population here in Humboldt County? Part of it is down to the fact that some people moved out and other people moved in, of course — but part of it is also the fact that the Census Bureau changed the way it asked the questions this time around.

In a write-up on its website, the Census Bureau explained that…

The 2020 Census used the required two separate questions (one for Hispanic or Latino origin and one for race) to collect the races and ethnicities of the U.S. population — following the standards set by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 1997.

Building upon our research over the past decade, we improved the two separate questions’ design and updated our data processing and coding procedures for the 2020 Census.

The improvements and changes enabled a more thorough and accurate depiction of how people self-identify, yielding a more accurate portrait of how people report their Hispanic origin and race within the context of a two-question format.

These changes reveal that the U.S. population is much more multiracial and more diverse than what we measured in the past.

So the Bureau believes that it is more thoroughly capturing the way people identify themselves, racially and ethnically, than it has in the past — according to which, it follows, that its previous measures of whiteness were flawed.

Therefore, the Census Bureau is saying, it may be a bit shaky to compare numbers from 2010 and 2020 — as we have, uh, done here — because they are sort of two different metrics. But as noted above, the changing numbers, whatever the cause of the change, do have real-world consequences, so we don’t feel too bad about including them.

Anyway: Stay tuned! Next week we’ll have more fun facts from the Census, with a focus on redistricting at the local level. Hopefully there will be fun maps and stuff. Both county government and the City of Eureka will have to redraw the lines that make up its political districts or wards, and in some cases the changes will be pretty dramatic!