A satellite view of the Chicago region. A Metropolitan Planning Council analysis of Census population estimates shows that most residents of the seven-county Chicago region will be people of color by 2021, if current demographic patterns continue.
The Chicago region, particularly Cook County, is losing its white population—and fast.
The sharpest drops appear to be happening among white families with middle-aged adults and school-aged children.
Among the nation’s 10 largest regions, the Chicago region—which includes Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties—ranks second in its percentage of white population loss between 2010 and 2016, according to a Metropolitan Planning Council analysis of detailed population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau earlier this summer.
And Cook County leads all counties in the nation in terms of white population loss during that span.
From 2010 to 2016, the region’s white population declined by nearly 137,000 or 3 percent. That’s an average loss of nearly 23,000 per year—an even faster pace of white population loss than the region’s loss of 200,000 between 2000 and 2010, a rate of 20,000 per year.
Not only has the region’s pace of white population loss increased so far this decade, the losses have spread to practically all parts of the region.
From 2000 to 2010, the white population fell in Cook, DuPage and Lake counties—by a collective sum of about 360,000. Those losses were offset somewhat by healthy gains in Kane, Kendall, McHenry and Will counties, where the white population grew by a combined total of about 160,000.
However, from 2010 to 2016, the white population continued to decline in Cook, DuPage and Lake counties by a collective total of almost 118,000. The gains witnessed last decade in McHenry and Will counties have turned into losses—by nearly 22,000 from 2010 to 2016. And growth in Kane and Kendall counties has slowed considerably, from roughly 6,700 per year last decade to just under 500 per year between 2010 and 2016.
The City of Chicago appears to be the lone bright spot in terms of white population growth. While Chicago saw its white population decline by about 52,000 last decade, Census estimates from the American Community Survey show an increase of about 25,000 from 2010 to 2015.
However, suburban Cook County has been the focal point of white population loss in the region. From 2000 to 2010, the white population in suburban Cook County fell by 228,000, even more than the oft-cited decline of more than 180,000 African Americans in Chicago during that decade.
And while the pace slowed some from 2010 to 2016, it did not recede enough to prevent Cook County from leading the nation in white population loss during that span. The county's white population fell by roughly 76,000 from 2010 to 2016.
A closer look at the latest census population estimates suggests that the white population decline is occurring mostly among families with school-age children. Among five-year age groupings, the region's largest declines in white population between 2010 and 2016, in order, were the age groups: 45 to 49 years; 40 to 44 years; 50 to 54 years; 15 to 19 years; 10 to 14 years; and 5 to 9 years. In total, the region had nearly 250,000 fewer white residents in those age groups in 2016 than it did in 2010.
On the other hand, nonwhite population increased in each of the region’s seven counties between 2010 and 2016. Overall, the region’s nonwhite population grew by more than 180,000, an increase of roughly 30,000 per year. But that’s a much slower rate of growth than the previous decade when the region’s nonwhite population grew by roughly 48,500 per year.
The modest growth in nonwhites and the dramatic white population loss are major contributors to the Chicago region’s lackluster 0.6 percent growth in total population from 2010 to 2016, which ranks ninth among the nation’s 10 largest regions.
The changes are fueling the region’s broader shift to a “majority-minority” region.
As others have noted previously, in a few years, most residents of the seven-county Chicago region will be people of color.
It's a change many large regions have already made. Both the New York City and Los Angeles regions made that shift decades ago. Currently, the Chicago region is the largest remaining majority-white region in the nation.
In 2000, the Chicago region was 57.5 percent white and 42.5 percent nonwhite. In 2010, it was 53.3 percent white and 46.7 percent nonwhite. By 2016, the region was 51.4 percent white and 48.6 percent nonwhite.
By 2021, the region will be 50.2 percent nonwhite and 49.8 percent white, if the average annual growth for whites and nonwhites witnessed between 2010 and 2016 continues the next few years, according to MPC’s analysis.
But it’s important to remember that diversity doesn’t mean equity.
The fact that the Chicago region will soon be a so-called “majority-minority” region doesn’t automatically mean that the region will become less segregated or more equitable.
As a part of MPC’s Cost of Segregation project, the Urban Institute determined that the Chicago commuting zone was the fifth most economically and racially segregated region in the nation—and that that level of segregation was costing the region billions of dollars in income, thousands of college degrees and hundreds of lives.
In the coming weeks, we’ll highlight how the region’s increasing diversity could pose tremendous hurdles for decades to come, if we’re unable to address our legacy of segregation and inequality. Furthermore, the shifting demographics could also present challenges for some municipalities that are less equipped to adjust to the needs of changing populations.
Because segregation and inequality have such profound costs, it’s critical to acknowledge and examine such changing demographics.