Data center: Facts on diversity in Iowa

Jump to: Population • Business • Immigration • Poverty

The makeup of Iowa is changing. What does this mean for all of us now, and going forward?

Diversity adds to the richness and vibrancy of Iowa’s communities, and helps us be well positioned to compete not only with neighboring states, but with the world. The future of this region depends on people who are different and diverse in all senses of the word.

Local experts say if businesses want to compete in tomorrow’s economy, they need to prepare today.

We Create Here is a team of community builders, narrators and producers using intent, collaboration and context to tackle these wicked problems for the future of our state.

Reporting by Kiran Sood. Web design by Sarah Binder.


The makeup of Iowa is changing. Numbers from the most recent U.S. Census show noticeable growth in minority populations. That trend is expected to continue.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2013 population estimate for the state of Iowa is 3.09 million. That population is getting older, with noticeable changes in just the last 10 years:

In Cedar Rapids, the trend is similar, but not all populations are contributing to Iowa’s advancing age. In 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 38 percent of all white people in Cedar Rapids were over the age of 50. This is in contrast to African-Americans: 38 percent of African-Americans in Cedar Rapids were under the age of 18. 

Source: State of Equity in Cedar Rapids 2014 report 

The population of Iowa also overwhelmingly identifies as white (though both Cedar Rapids and Iowa City are slightly more diverse than Iowa as a whole):


According to the State of Equity in Cedar Rapids 2014 report, “Cedar Rapids (as with most of Iowa’s metropolitan areas) has seen its share of “white flight” to the suburbs. Cedar Rapids grew much more slowly than surrounding areas, and became significantly more diverse as it lost White residents and gained residents of color. Marion is now 94 percent White and Hiawatha 89 percent White, which means these areas are less racially/ethnically diverse than Cedar Rapids.”










“Our attitude and response towards that change will determine if Cedar Rapids will be a thriving community or not. Diversity can add to the fabric, but only if we welcome it, appreciate it and invest in it.”

– Cedar Rapids State of Equity Report 2014


What are the benefits to having a diverse workforce ? Women, minority business owners, immigrants and international students are all valuable contributors to our society and economy in Eastern Iowa. How can Iowa welcome innovative and diverse professionals? What do businesses need to do to prepare for the state’s changing demographics?

Welcoming communities are more likely to be able to initially attract and retain diverse employees. Bringing on diverse team members helps position companies to compete globally. Finally, hiring a diverse workforce also helps Corridor companies ensure their staff reflects the changing demographics of the communities they serve.


In 2007, the most recent year data is available from, just a tiny fraction – 0.8 percent – of 259,931 small businesses across the state of Iowa were African-American owned. Asian owned firms numbered 1.1 percent.

Minority business owners in Iowa | Create Infographics

A U.S. Census survey of business owners shows that women-owned businesses accounted for only 25 percent of Iowa’s small businesses as of 2007, the most recent number available.


Iowa ranks last or next to last on nearly every measure of progress for women-owned business: growth in the number of women-owned firms (50th), growth in revenues for these firms (51st) growth in employment (50th) and overall economic impact of women-owned firms (51st).

Source: 2012 State of Women-Owned Business Report (PDF) by American Express


As Iowa’s Hispanic and non-white population continues to grow, Corridor businesses will need to take note in order to be prepared for these changing demographics.

In addition to the boom in the Hispanic population, Iowa will see more African-Americans, Asians and Native Americans migrating to the state. Corridor business leaders say they believe having a diverse staff is key to being able to compete in a global market.

Diversity in Iowa, Iowa population, immigrants to Iowa

Country of Origin for immigrants to Iowa (10 countries with largest total from 2002 - 2012)

Most of the newer migrants in Iowa, especially since 2008, are refugees, explained Michele Devlin, professor of health promotion and education at the University of Northern Iowa and director of the Iowa Center on Health Disparities.

Foreign-born workers represent 5.4 percent of the U.S. workforce - but don’t participate equally in every industry:

“According to a July 2014 report from the Iowa Policy Project: Iowa is home to a diverse population of about 130,000 immigrants, a broad category defined as those born outside the United States. This number includes naturalized citizens, refugees, legal permanent residents (green card holders), those with work or student visas, and undocumented immigrants. In total, immigrants make up about 4.3 percent of the Iowa population, account for 4.5 percent of the state’s economic output and represent 1 in 20 Iowa workers.”


Some Iowans struggle to get by every day. As the state’s population changes, how will the community respond to the needs of this group? Propelled by this and other questions, we’re taking a look at poverty and the working poor in a collaborative project called Stronger Together. Stronger Together is a collaboration with the Gazette newsroom. This project aims to explore and explain the causes, characteristics and solutions to the problem of poverty in Linn and Johnson counties. It involves other journalists, photographers, web developers and more.


There are about 171,000 single-parent families in Iowa. A single parent with two children would have to earn $28.07 an hour to meet basic needs.

The statewide average median wage is $15.57, according to The Cost of Living in Iowa report, by the Iowa Policy Project.

Source: Iowa Policy Project

The percent of people in poverty varies widely by race:

Additionally, African-Americans in Cedar Rapids have higher unemployment rates, 12 percent in 2012, compared to whites, 3.3 percent in 2012. And while Iowa is ranked almost at the top for overall homeownership, it is ranked 36th in the nation when it comes to homeownership among people of color.

Source: State of Equity in Cedar Rapids 2014 report

Kiran Sood, journalist and community builder for diversity.


Diversity impacts all of us.

Diversity adds to the richness and vibrancy of our communities, and helps us be well positioned to compete not only with neighboring states, but with the world. The future of this region depends on people who are different and diverse in all senses of the word.

Continue the conversation and check out these local organizations: Diversity Focus | Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission | Employee Resource Group Consortium | Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit  | Iowa Womens Leadership Conference | U.S. Census Bureau

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