PARKERSBURG - A new study completed by Penn State University professors has determined the Mid-Ohio Valley is the among the least ethnic diverse areas in the country.
According to a new study funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, the Parkersburg-Vienna-Marietta area is among the least diverse areas in the United States.
The Parkersburg-Vienna-Marietta area is 96 percent white, according to the study, and is the second least diverse area in the country. The Mid-Ohio Valley was topped only by Laredo, Texas, which is almost 96 percent Hispanic.
The entrance to Parkersburg is marked with a sign promoting its participation in the National League of Cities Inclusive Program. The city, along with Vienna and Marietta, have been tapped as one of the least diverse areas in the country, according to a study from a foundation dedicated to social sciences. (Photo by Jody Murphy)
Other areas, including Wheeling, 94 percent white; Huntington-Ashland, 94 percent white; and Weirton-Steubenville. 93 percent white; were also among the top 10 least diverse areas of the country. Charleston also made the list.
Barry Lee and his colleague John Iceland, both from Penn State University, conducted the study based on 2010 U.S. Census data and other sources of information to review American life and communities. The study looked at diversity among whites, blacks, Asians and others, such as Native Americans.
The study was funded by the Russell Sage Foundation. According to its website, the Russell Sage Foundation was established in 1907 for the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States.
"The foundation now dedicates itself exclusively to strengthening the methods, data and theoretical core of the social sciences as a means of diagnosing social problems and improving social policies," the site states.
The study found burgeoning Hispanic and Asian populations have contributed to a major transformation, reducing the number of all-white places and increasing the number of minority-majority and non-majority ones.
Vallejo, Calif., is found to be the most diverse area in the country. According to the study, less than 41 percent of its population is white, compared to almost 25 percent Hispanic, 15 percent Asian and about 14 percent black. The top three most diverse areas area all in California, followed by the Washington, D.C.,-Arlington area, which includes portions of West Virginia.
The study concluded over the last 30 years the nation has become more ethnically diverse. Many of the most diverse areas of the country are the south, the coastal areas, "traditional gateway areas," according to Lee.
"These are areas for immigrants entering the country," he said.
Lee also said areas with centers of (state or federal) government or military bases also tend to be more diverse.
"We interpret government and military as committed to equal opportunity," Lee said.
"To the extent that your area doesn't have the kinds of jobs or industry to attract Hispanics may be one of the reasons is not as diverse," he added.
Mayor Bob Newell said about the only vehicle in the area that brings in diversity is the Bureau of Public Debt.
"They bring in employees from all over the country," he said.
Parkersburg is home to the federal government's Bureau of Public Debt and more than 1,800 employees. According to its website, 95 percent of the bureau's 1,950 employees work in Parkersburg.
Wood County Commission President Blair Couch said the area's lack of diversity was raised when Japanese officials were looking at locating a Hino plant. Couch said Japanese officials were concerned but found folk here to be very friendly.
"It's embarrassing and something we'd like to address," Couch said.
Newell also noted the city has adopted the National League of Cities Inclusive Program. The inclusive program is a partnership to raise awareness, focus attention and motivate cities and towns to make a commitment to building inclusive communities. That includes immigrant integration, race relations and justice and economic disparity.
"We have good schools, low crime and great fairs and festivals," Couch said.
Lee wouldn't say if the lack of diversity was good or bad, but noted the trend for the area has been upward.
"The trend has been for greater diversity," he said comparing 1980 census data to 2010.
"Diversity is no longer a vicarious experience," Lee said. "For a long time people basically encountered folks just like them and now that is no longer the case. At the street level, people are coming face to face with people of varying ethnic backgrounds."
Lee said a lot research as been done with regard to diverse mixes of communities and the results are mixed.
"It can lead to better understanding and more tolerant attitudes, but it can also be a source of conflict if the groups are competing for jobs, housing or resources."
Lee said scores of economists, sociologists and political scientists are studying the implications of diversity in communities,
"And the jury is still out," he said.