2010 Census: African-Americans leaving city for suburbs - Metropolitan Planning Council

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2010 Census: African-Americans leaving city for suburbs

Source: U.S. Census, map by Ryan Griffin-Stegink

This map is available to download as a high-resolution PDF.

2010 Census data reveals dramatic shifts in the region's population over the last decade. While most coverage of the 2010 Census data has focused on the political ramifications of these population changes, this new portrait of our region means a host of policy implications as well, from the need for workforce housing to impacts on traffic congestion. Over the next several weeks, MPC will offer snapshots of some of these regional shifts and analysis of how they will affect our work. Today's post assesses the movement of African-American population to the suburbs.

MPC Research Assistant Ryan Griffin-Stegink contributed to this post.

That 200,000 Chicago residents have left the city since the 2000 Census is daunting enough. Even more concerning is that nearly 89 percent of them were African-American. This loss in the city was accompanied by strong African-American growth in the suburbs. Unfortunately, until more Census data is released and analyzed, we have more questions than answers as to why this trend is so acute in the African-American community. However, we can glean a few things from the current Census information.

Census snapshot

While all of the outer suburbs grew quickly from 2000 to 2010, the bulk of the black population that left Chicago seems to have settled in the southern and southwest suburbs. The far-south suburban communities of Matteson and Lansing are among those with the highest number of new African-American residents. Matteson added around 6,900 African-Americans, representing an 84 percent growth in its black population over a time period when its overall population growth was only 47 percent. Lansing saw a 195 percent increase in its black population, while its overall population stayed the same: The 5,900 African-Americans that moved there entirely displaced the loss of other populations from the village.

Other suburbs had smaller quantities of new African-American residents, but impressive rates of growth among black residents. The near-west suburbs of Berwyn and Cicero saw 417 percent and 235 percent growth in their black populations, respectively. These rates are high relative to Berwyn’s overall growth rate of 5 percent, and Cicero’s net loss of 2 percent of its residents.  And while the far southwest suburb of Plainfield grew rapidly at 204 percent overall, its African-American population expanded dramatically by 2,011 percent, the fastest rate of growth in the region.


Data from the Census’ American Community Survey (ACS) suggests that African-Americans likely chose these communities for their good schools and lower cost of homeownership, but not necessarily because jobs were available there. 

Many of these African-Americans may have left the city of Chicago in search of better schools.  According to the latest ACS numbers, most of the suburbs experiencing African-American growth have higher rates of high school graduation (or equivalency) than Chicago’s 79 percent.  However, these towns vary more when it comes to higher educational attainment, many registering lower rates of attainment for bachelor's and higher-level degrees than Chicago. 

Schools are not the only thing driving African-Americans to the suburbs: After all, 3,200 African-Americans left Evanston, a city where 95 percent of the residents have high school diplomas. The cost of owning a home likely plays a part in this shift. The latest ACS median values of owned homes in Chicago and Evanston are around $270,000 and $395,000, respectively.  In contrast, most suburbs experiencing African-American in-migration post median home values well under $200,000.  The cost of renting is often higher in these outer suburbs, making it more likely that African-Americans are moving to become homeowners.

These benefits don’t come without a cost, however: African-Americans relocating to the suburbs are living further away from their jobs.  The Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program tracks a variety of data related to where people are living and working. In a survey of 15 of these far-south and southwest communities, LEHD shows that 62 percent of residents worked more than 10 miles away from their home in 2009.  In Matteson, for instance, only 6 percent of residents worked within the community in 2009.  Another 6 percent worked in adjacent communities, while 34 percent worked in the city of Chicago—up from 29 percent from 2002, the first year data is available—suggesting that many African-Americans that left Chicago continue to work there.

The vast majority of these suburban residents aren’t making these lengthy commutes by bus or train.  In both Lansing and Plainfield, 91 percent of residents drive to work, compared with only 62 percent in the city of Chicago.  Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing and Transportation Affordability Index calculates that Chicago residents spent 11 percent of their income on transportation expenses in 2008.  By 2008, this figure had risen to only 13 percent.  In Matteson, however, transportation expenses jumped from 21 percent to 29 percent, due in large part to rising gas prices.  With the cost of gasoline continuing to rise, African-Americans that moved to the suburbs could soon find that the higher cost of getting around is more than outweighing the educational and housing benefits.

Policy and planning response

This data sounds many alarms for the Metropolitan Planning Council and should for many others. The question is how do we stem this out-migration from Chicago while ensuring that the communities experiencing this growth are ready to service, engage, and plan for new residents? MPC works on a number of projects to improve the communities that African-Americans (and others) are moving away from and to: 

  • The Regional Housing Initiative provides financial incentives to developers and owners of quality rental housing to ensure that affordable households are available near jobs and transit. 
  • The Employer-Assisted Housing and new Commute Options Programs provide incentives and supports to employers and employees interested in workforce housing options closer to the job site and/or public transit.
  • The Reconnecting Neighborhoods project is working to attract transportation, infrastructure, and retail investment for residents of Chicago Housing Authority Plan for Transformation communities in three historically black Chicago neighborhoods. 
  • Placemaking Chicago supports the creation and care of public spaces to foster healthier, more social, and economically vibrant communities. Ultimately, the goal is to empower residents to transform their neighborhoods, dispelling the notion that they must leave to find a better quality of life. 
  • Our work on Interjurisdictional Collaboration and the Community Building Initiative, and our partnership with Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus on Homes for a Changing Region are all helping these suburban communities plan for and engage their changing demographics, specifically to ensure that the housing stock stays affordable and high-quality, and to explore opportunities to improve public transit options.


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