The most recent available number of persons of Ukrainian ancestry in the United States is 1,127,934. That number comes from data collected in 2018. But there is now a possibility of updating this estimate to a more current date. This can be done by first checking if the results from the 2020 census can be used to update the number of Ukrainians in the U.S. If so, then a preliminary update of the number of Ukrainians in the U.S. can be made that would provide a new figure as of 2021. Moreover, there is also now an opportunity to see what effect the Russian invasion of Ukraine might have on the future evolution of the number of Ukrainians in the U.S.
Before addressing these issues, it is important to understand how the 1.1 million estimate was derived. First, it is important to define what is meant by Ukrainians in the U.S., and it is important to examine the data used to estimate their number. The concept of Ukrainian in the U.S. is based on the question on ancestry or ethnicity asked in the Census and later the yearly American Community Survey (ACS). That question reads as follows:
“What is this person’s ancestry or ethnic origin?” (For example: Italian, Jamaican, African Am., Cambodian, Cape Verdean, Norwegian, Dominican, French Canadian, Haitian, Korean, Lebanese, Polish, Nigerian, Mexican, Taiwanese, Ukrainian, and so on.)
The question allows one to provide one or two ancestries, to account for descendants of ethnic intermarriages (Ukrainian and German or Irish and Ukrainian, for example). The analysis offered in this article also includes in the definition of Ukrainian in the U.S. persons who reside in the U.S., but were born in Ukraine.
The question on ancestry was first asked in the 1980 Census and repeated in the 1990 and 2000 censuses. It was eliminated from the 2010 Census and has been asked in the yearly ACS since 2005. These data sets also have information on a person’s country of birth. Thus, the elements needed to decide if a person is a Ukrainian in the U.S. do exist.
The database on Ukrainians constructed by the Center for Demographic and Socioeconomic Research of Ukrainians in the U.S. (Center) at the Shevchenko Scientific Society in the United States has data from the 1980, 1990 and 2000 censuses. The data is from the yearly ACS starting in 2005. As the ACS has a sample of approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population, the number of Ukrainians captured by a one-year survey is small.
Therefore, the data are pooled from several years to make the estimate of Ukrainians statistically more stable. The data for 2018 is the average of data from the 2017, 2018 and 2019 ACS.
There is a possibility of updating the 2018 estimate to 2020 using the 2020 Census data, but it turns out that this may not be possible. Censuses used to have one question on race and another on ancestry. For some reason, the Bureau of the Census decided to combine the race and ancestry questions into one question in the 2020 census.
Thus, it asked the following question: “What is this person’s race?” It then asked individuals to “Mark one or more boxes and print origins.” It provided the following choices that individuals could select by checking a box next to their option: “White (print, for example, German, Irish, English, …, etc.), Black or African American (print, for example, African American, Jamaican, …, etc.), American Indian or Alaska Native (print name of enrolled or principal tribe or tribes), Chinese, Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian, Filipino, Korean, Samoan, Asian Indian, Japanese, Chamorro, Other Asian, some other race.
There are several problems with this question. First, it mixes two very different concepts: race and origin. Second, origin replaces the concept of ancestry or ethnicity in the original question. Third, the list of examples in “White” does not have Ukrainian, as it did in the original ancestry question. Fourth, if one’s ancestry is mixed, one could write Ukrainian under “White” and another ancestry under “some other race.” However, although the question has the wording “mark one or more boxes and print origins,” some persons with two ancestries may not write a second ancestry in the “some other race category.” As a result, it is almost certain that the number of persons of Ukrainian ancestry (or origin) in the 2020 census will be significantly smaller than the 1.1 million captured by the ACS.
Another problem is that the 2020 census was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. This affected the timing of the fieldwork and the quality of the data. The Bureau of the Census is trying to correct data quality problems, but this takes time. As a result, detailed data on the race and origin question will not be available until August 2023.
Given that the 2020 census data very likely underestimates the number of Ukrainians in the U.S., this analysis needed to use the yearly ACSs for updating the 2018 estimate to 2020. However, this requires data from the 2019, 2020 and 2021 ACS. The data from 2019 and 2020 are available, but the 2021 data will not be available until sometime next year.
Another data source on Ukrainians in the U.S. is the series of “Yearbooks of Immigration Statistics,” published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. These data are minimal compared to the census and ACS data. The data used from censuses and ACS are samples of complete individual records. These records have demographic, social, economic, housing and other data, and it can be analyzed down to the neighborhood level in major cities. Some analyses of these data have been published in “Studia Sociologica” (see https://shevchenko.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Demographic-Historical_analysis_Wolowyna.pdf), in the “Atlas of Ukrainians in the U. S.” (see https://shevchenko.org/books/) and posted at the Center’s web site at http://www.inform-decisions.com/stat/index.php.
The immigration data, on the other hand, only lists yearly numbers of immigrants with permanent residency, refugees and asylees and nonimmigrants on temporary visas. Moreover, the data are by country of birth or nationality and by fiscal year (October 1-September 30 of the following year), and not by calendar year.
While the 2021 ACS data are being prepared, this analysis can use the Immigration Statistics to get an approximate number of Ukrainians in the U.S. by the end of 2021:
This new estimate increases the number of Ukrainians in the U.S. by 40,000.
The data on recent refugees and asylees is also included in the table for reference purposes. The topic of refugees and asylees will be discussed in another article. The war in Ukraine has triggered two new programs in the U.S. focused on refugees from Ukraine and Ukrainian citizens residing illegally in the U.S.: Uniting for Ukraine for refugees and Temporary Protected Status for illegal immigrants. These are very recent programs and bureaucratic hurdles complicate their implementation. Nevertheless, they are likely to add to the normal flow of immigrants allowed under current immigration regulations – family reunions, work-related visas, the lottery program, etc.
This will likely mean there is a new wave of immigrants coming to the U.S. from Ukraine.
Immigration statistics will provide some information about the number of these Ukrainian immigrants. In addition, the ACS will eventually capture immigrants who become permanent residents, and that data can be analyzed in great detail to better understand the characteristics of these immigrants.
Oleh Wolowyna is director of the Center for Demographic and Socio-economic Research of Ukrainians in the U.S. at the Shevchenko Scientific Society in the United States, and research fellow at the Center for Slavic, Eurasian and Eastern European Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.