Study: Atlanta overtakes Chicago as second largest Black metropolitan area

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by William H. Frey
For New Pittsburgh Courier

Editor’s Note: The just released “State of Metropolitan America” study from the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program portrays the demographic and social trends shaping the nation’s economic and societal metropolitan populations. The excerpt below is from the Race & Ethnicity section of the report.

The racial and ethnic profile of the United States continued its transformation in the 2000s, reflecting the combined impact of continued immigration and higher fertility rates for nonwhite groups.

Racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 83 percent of U.S. population growth from 2000 to 2008. The continued faster growth of Hispanic, Asian, and Black populations put the country as a whole on track to reach “majority minority” status by 2042, and its children to reach that milestone by 2023. More than three-quarters of racial and ethnic minorities today live in the nation’s 100 largest metro area.

A majority of Asians, and a near-majority of Hispanics, live in just 10 metropolitan areas. Yet the 2000s continued a slow dispersal of these groups away from major immigrant gateway areas like Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. Fast-growing areas of the South like Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. ranked among the largest gainers of Asian and Hispanic population from 2000 to 2008. Metro areas in the Southeast and the Interior West, and a few in the Midwest, exhibited some of the most rapid gains in Hispanic and Asian populations in the 2000s. During the latter part of the decade, however, Hispanic and Asian growth retrenched toward major gateways like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami, as the housing market collapse and recession slowed the movement of these groups to places like Riverside, Phoenix, and Orlando.

Blacks continue to move southward, as metro Atlanta surpassed metro Chicago for total Black population by 2008. Whites moved to many of these “New Sun Belt” areas in large numbers as well during the 2000s, though their population shrank in large, coastal metro areas like Los Angeles and New York that continued to attract significant minority populations.

For the first time, a majority of all racial/ethnic groups in large metro areas live in the suburbs. Deep divides by race and ethnicity still separate cities and suburbs in metro areas like Detroit, but others like Los Angeles show much greater convergence between jurisdictions. In a handful of cities including Atlanta, Boston, and Washington, D.C., the share of population that is White increased during the 2000s.

The historic pattern of Black settlement in the U.S. can be measured more in centuries than in decades. The most prominent shifts occurred during much of the 20th century, with the “Great Migration” out of the South, first to cities in the Northeast and Midwest, and then to the West. Still, through the 1960s, the South housed more than half of the nation’s Black population.

In the early 1970s, African-Americans began to follow White population into the South. Since then, and especially during the 1990s, Black movement to the South has become substantial. It has occurred less in historic “Old South” states such as Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and more in “New South” growth centers such as Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

This trend expanded in the 2000s. The region’s share of total U.S. Black population continued to rise from 54 percent in 1990 to 57 percent in 2008. The South accounted for fully 75 percent of the nation’s Black population gains from 2000 to 2008, up from 65 percent in the 1990s. Northern destinations for Blacks during the Great Migration still figure prominently among the metropolitan areas with the largest Black populations in 2008, as do several areas in the South

The biggest shift occurred in metropolitan Atlanta, which rose rapidly from seventh in 1990 to fourth in 2000, and in the 2000s surpassed Chicago to house the second-largest African-American population in the United States. In the process it more than doubled its Black population, overtaking the metropolitan area whose city Martin Luther King Jr. once called the “Birmingham of the North.”

Atlanta also far surpassed other metropolitan areas in its Black population gain during the 2000s. Its large middle-class Black population, along with its diversified and growing economy, provided a continued draw for African-Americans from across the country. Nine of the top 10 metro areas for Black population gains from 2000 to 2008 are located in the South, including the three “New South” areas of Charlotte, Orlando, and Tampa. These regions are attracting more highly-educated Blacks, including those from northern destinations. Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Dallas rank sixth, ninth, and 25th, respectively, on the share of Black adults with a bachelor’s degree, whereas Philadelphia and Detroit rank, respectively, 59th and 79th.

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