Hickory is becoming much more racially and ethnically diverse, and clear disparities exist between different groups on a spectrum of educational, economic and other metrics.
That is the clear conclusion of a report compiled by the Western Piedmont Council of Governments for Hickory City Council.
Data sources for the report included the 2020 census, American Community Surveys and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
Here are four big takeaways from the report:
Educational disparities in Hickory are stark.
In North Carolina overall, 34 percent of Black high school students performed at or above grade level on their end of course exams during the 2018-19 school year.
At Hickory High, the number was much lower: 13.1 percent.
This singular piece of information stands out in a report that documents a number of educational achievement gaps, both between racial and ethnic groups and between the two school systems that serve Hickory residents.
The most extreme disparities are between Black students and other students and to a lesser extent Hispanic students and white students.
While some of the difference can be seen at the elementary and middle school levels, it is most pronounced in the high schools.
At the high school level in the Hickory Public Schools system, Hispanic students also underperformed the state number with 33.9 percent in Hickory at or above grade level opposed to 42.8 percent in the state.
The performance of white students in the Hickory system (62.6 percent at or above grade level) was about 2 percent less than for white students in the state overall.
In contrast, students at the high school level in the Catawba County Schools system were at or above the state numbers for all racial and ethnic groups that year.
Though not included in the report itself, a presentation made to the Hickory City Council earlier this month included data on graduation rates that also highlighted the disparities.
Statewide, 85.2 percent of Black 12th-graders graduated at the end of the 2019-20 school year. Both Hickory High (77.6 percent) and St. Stephens High (81.3 percent) had lower Black graduation rates.
Both high schools matched or nearly matched the 95 percent graduation rate for Asian American students.
Hickory High’s nearly 93 percent Hispanic graduation rate was more than 11 percent higher than the state number. The Hispanic graduation rate at St. Stephens was 80.4 percent, slightly less than the rate for the state.
The two schools also had slightly lower graduation rates for white students than the state. The state graduation rate for white students was 90.7 percent, compared to 86.7 percent at Hickory and 87.8 percent at St. Stephens.
Hickory is growing more diverse
In 2010, non-Hispanic white people accounted for 69.4 percent of the population.
The top three specifically defined minority groups were Blacks (14.3 percent), Hispanics (11.4 percent) and Asian Americans (3.2 percent).
A little more than 5 percent identified as “other race.” The study authors explained many Hispanics check “other race” on the census and then later specify that they are Hispanic.
In the 2014-18 data set, non-Hispanic whites made up 67.6 percent of the population.
Hispanics had become the largest minority group (12.8 percent) while Blacks were second (11.6 percent). The share of Asian Americans in the population grew to 5.5 percent.
The “other race” category represented 8.4 percent of the population in 2014-18.
A noticeable age gap between non-Hispanic whites and Blacks on one side and Hispanics and Asian Americans on the other is also clear.
The median age for non-Hispanics whites in the 2014-18 survey was 44.9 years. For Blacks, it was 42.3 years old.
Hispanics had an average median age of 25.4 years and the median age for Asian Americans was 29.2 years.
Non-Hispanic whites and Blacks skewed older, with 21 percent of whites and 17.5 percent of Blacks aged 65 or older.
In contrast, only 3.2 percent of Hispanics and less than 1 percent of Asian Americans were in that age group.
Non-Hispanic whites and Blacks each made up about 30 percent of the 20-44 demographic while 40 percent or more of Hispanics and Asian Americans were in that range.
Hispanics and Asian Americans dominated the demographic of people who were 19 or younger. More than 40 percent of Hispanics and Asian Americans were in that group.
For the non-Hispanic whites and Blacks, the number in that youngest segment was at or slightly above 20 percent.
There are clear economic gaps
Nearly half of Black households in Hickory had incomes of less than $25,000 from 2014-18 — a higher percentage in that category than any other racial or ethnic group.
For Hispanic households, the percent in that below $25,000 range was 39.1 percent.
The percentage of non-Hispanic whites in that category was 24.2 percent while it was 28.5 percent for Asian American households.
Non-Hispanic whites and Asian Americans also had larger numbers of households in the highest income tier of $100,000 or more.
For whites, 22 percent were in that group while 24.1 percent of Asian American households had incomes in that range.
Less than 6 percent of both Black and Hispanic households were in that top income tier.
More than 30 percent of Black and Hispanic households were in poverty while the same was true for less than 20 percent of the white and Asian American households.
Members of minority groups owned 300 businesses in the city, a little less than 10 percent of the total number.
Among the 300 minority-owned businesses, Asian Americans owned the most by far at 188. Hispanics owned 88 and Blacks owned 17.
Taylor Dellinger, a data analyst who worked on the report, said education is a big factor in many of those economic disparities.
“One of the biggest things that I saw in it was the value of education,” Dellinger said. “I think part of the wage gap, which is rather large, it’s definitely tied back into educational attainment.”
Health insurance gaps still exist.
The uninsured rate for all racial and ethnic groups in Hickory fell between the 2009-2013 time period and the 2014-2018 time period.
Non-Hispanic whites had the lowest uninsured rate in 2014-18 at 8 percent while people in the other races category had the highest uninsured rate at 37 percent.