Data Points: Most African Americans leaving Chicago and Cook County are low income - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Data Points: Most African Americans leaving Chicago and Cook County are low income

Flickr user Jonathan Parker (CC)

New detailed population estimates released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau show that Cook County continues to lose African Americans. In 2016, the black population declined in Cook County by more than 12,000, the deepest loss of African Americans in any county in the nation. It marked the third year in a row that Cook County led the nation for its black population loss.

According to the latest estimates, Cook County’s black population has fallen by more than 50,000 since 2010.

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However, a Metropolitan Planning Council analysis of additional census data shows that much of the county’s black population loss is due to the loss of low-income African Americans in Chicago.

From 2010 to 2015, the population of low-income African Americans fell by almost 56,000 in Chicago, while it increased by more than 5,000 in suburban Cook County.

The new population estimates allow us to see how populations have changed for more than 3,000 U.S. counties by age, gender, race and ethnicity. However, the numbers don’t give a detailed picture about the actual components of population change. The estimates don’t tell us who’s coming and who’s going, nor do they tell us who’s being born and who’s dying, which all play a part in the net population gain or loss reflected when comparing the new figures to those from the past.

To learn more about the continuing decline in black population in Cook County, MPC analyzed Census microdata provided by IPUMS-USA, University of Minnesota. While the latest population estimates are for 2016, the most current year of the microdata analyzed by MPC is 2015.

Still, MPC’s look at changes in the black population by income, age, geography and other factors as well as its analysis of black migration patterns to and from Cook County provides some insight on the black population loss.

Most of the black population loss witnessed in Cook County is largely due to the loss of young, low-income African Americans from Chicago’s south and west sides, according to MPC’s analysis of the microdata. Overall, there’s little difference between the city’s middle- and upper-income black population in 2010 and 2015. And the black population overall grew during that span in suburban Cook County and the surrounding parts of the region, according to MPC’s analysis.

Borrowing methodology used by the Pew Research Center, the MPC categorized individuals nationwide as low-, middle-, and upper-income based on their household income adjusted for household size, inflation and the cost of living of the metro areas in which they’re located. The Pew Research Center defined middle-class households as those with incomes two-thirds to double the nationwide median, with lower-income households earning less and upper-income households earning more. In 2014 dollars, a middle-income, three-person household earned between $42,000 and $125,000, according to the Pew Research Center.

In addition to heavy losses on the city’s south and west sides, the numbers of low-income African Americans also fell in north, northwest, west and far southwest suburban Cook County. However, their numbers grew in the south suburbs and in the near southwest suburbs.

Furthermore, the low-income black population decline is almost entirely among the youth, individuals under the age of 25. In contrast, the low-income African American population increased among those 55 years and older both in the city and suburban Cook County.

For sure, some of the changes in the low-income black population may be due to shifting economic fortunes. Households may fluctuate between low- and middle-income tiers due to job loss or other economic pressures. However, MPC’s analysis of migration patterns illustrated by the microdata suggests that the population loss of low-income African Americans is due, in part, to a larger share of them leaving the Chicago region than other segments of the black community.

For instance, when comparing the numbers of low-income African Americans who left Cook County to the numbers who arrived here from elsewhere, on average, roughly 7,500 more low-income African Americans left Cook County each year between 2010 and 2015, according to MPC’s analysis.

Additionally, about 50 percent of African Americans in Cook County live in lower-income households, but, since 2011, more than 60 percent of African Americans who’ve left Cook County are from low-income households.

While it’s not entirely clear why the African American population has fallen so sharply in Chicago dating back to 2000. Segmenting the black population loss by age, income, geography and other factors gives us some clues.

It should be noted that the drop in black population coincides with a number of other major transitions on the city’s south and west sides including an eroding job market; the demolition of thousands of public housing units; a precipitous decline in black enrollment within Chicago’s public schools dating back to the late 1990s; an explosion of foreclosures, including thousands of rental properties, in the years following the recession; the closure of dozens of elementary schools; and, in recent years, a dramatic spike in homicides.

The analysis suggests that the impact of those struggles may have had a disproportionate impact on low-income African Americans who may be, in part, leaving Chicago in search of jobs, stable housing, better schools and safer neighborhoods.


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