Black Exodus: African-America Children to the Suburbs

By Wendell Cox

One of the most significant results of the 2010 census was the continuing shift of the African-American population from the core cities to the suburbs of major metropolitan areas (Note). In 2010, 55 percent of the African-American population was in the suburbs, up from 48 percent in 2000 (Figure 1). In 2000, 26 percent of African-Americans aged five to 14 lived in the core cities of the major metropolitan areas. By 2010, only 21 percent lived in the core cities (Figure 2).

Overall, the national African-American population increased 12.3 percent between 2000 and 2010. However, African-Americans aged 5 to 14 population dropped 6.5 percent. The loss in the core cities was 23.6 percent and there was a loss of 0.6 percent in the suburbs. Overall, the major metropolitan areas had a loss of 6.4 percent, while areas outside the major metropolitan areas suffered a smaller loss of 6.6 percent.




Core City Trends

Overall, the loss in African-American school children in the core cities was from 1,047,000 to 801,000. This was more than seven times the rate of decline of the overall African-American population of three percent in the core cities.

The largest core city school children loss was, not surprisingly, in New Orleans. A large share of the loss was the result of the Hurricane Katrina losses. The city of New Orleans lost more than one-half of its population in the year following Hurricane Katrina, dropping from 452,000 in 2005 to 223,000 in 2006. The 2000-2010 loss in African-American school children was 52.5 percent.

The intensity of the losses elsewhere, however, could not be excused by natural disasters or poorly maintained levies. The two core cities of the San Francisco metropolitan area, often ranked as the nation’s most affluent, suffered the largest losses outside New Orleans. Both the cities of San Francisco and Oakland lost 45.9 percent of their African-American school children. Their huge losses without the disaster of New Orleans was even worse than in Detroit, which lost 45.0 percent of its African-American school children. The city of Detroit, of course, has lost more from its population peak than any other large core municipality in high income world. The 2000 to 2010 decade experienced the largest percentage decline among the last six decades (all of which had declines).

The fifth through tenth largest losing core cities were bunched from 35.9 to 33.2 percent losses, which were much less than the four largest losers, but still significant. These included San Diego, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Cleveland (Figure 3).


The strength of these losses is particularly significant in the core cities that had overall population growth during the period, all in California (San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego and Los Angeles).

Not all metropolitan areas are losing black children. Ten core cities experienced increases in their African-American school children population. Raleigh had the greatest growth, at 51.3 percent. Salt Lake City had the second largest increase, at 45.8 percent, though from a very small base. Louisville had a 45 percent increase, however this was largely due to a city-county consolidation that more than doubled the city population. Two fast growing core cities ranked fourth and fifth. Charlotte experienced the fourth largest increase at 25.4 percent, while Phoenix added 14.7 percent. Columbus ranked sixth with an increase of 11.6 percent. Orlando, Nashville, St. Paul and Las Vegas rounded out the 10 core cities with the fastest growing African-American school children population (Figure 4).


Suburban Trends

The Salt Lake City suburbs had the largest gain in African-American school children population, at 88.5 percent. This, however, was on a very small population base. The fast growing suburbs of Phoenix ranked second at 66.3 percent. Minneapolis-St. Paul, which has long had a relatively small African-American population share gained 52.0 percent for a third placed ranking among metropolitan areas. All of the balance of the top ten suburban areas were in faster growing metropolitan areas, including Austin, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, Raleigh and Orlando (Figure 5).


The suburban losses in African-American school children mirrored patterns of core city losses to some degree. Los Angeles had the largest loss, at 31.4 percent. The suburban Los Angeles loss was substantially greater even of second place New Orleans, at 27.6 percent. The three other coastal California metropolitan areas took three of the next four positions, with San Diego losing 25.2 percent (3rd), San Francisco losing 24.9 percent (4th), and San Jose losing 16.3 percent (6th). The suburbs of New York ranked 5th, with a loss of 17.3 percent. The suburbs of Pittsburgh, Chicago, Virginia Beach-Norfolk and Detroit occupied the 7th through 10th worst positions (Figure 6).


California’s inland metropolitan areas, which have been attracting families looking for less unaffordable housing for years, did better. The Sacramento suburbs lost 0.3 percent and Riverside-San Bernardino lost 3.8 percent, both better than the national major metropolitan suburban average loss of 6.4 percent.

Major Metropolitan Trends

Salt Lake City had the greatest major metropolitan area gain, at 81.9 percent, again on a small 2000 population base. Fast growing Phoenix had the second greatest growth, at 51.7 percent. Raleigh placed third at 33.2 percent. Minneapolis-St. Paul was 4th, at 31.3 percent, Las Vegas 5th at 30.5 percent and Atlanta 6th at 25.9 percent. The top ten also included Charlotte, Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Columbus (Figure 7).


The metropolitan areas with the largest loss in African-American school children tended to be those with the largest core city losses. New Orleans suffered the largest loss, at 35.5 percent. Los Angeles lost the second most, at 32.1 percent, even without a devastating hurricane. San Francisco had the third greatest loss at 30.0 percent, followed by San Diego, at 28.3 percent. Detroit’s loss was 24.7 percent. San Jose ranked sixth, with a loss of 19.7 percent. The coastal California metropolitan areas represented four of the six worst losses out of the 51 major metropolitan areas. New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland completed the bottom ten (Figure 8).


Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego each appear in the bottom 10 in retaining African-American school children between 2000 and 2010, in core city population, suburban population and metropolitan population. San Jose appears in the bottom 10 in two categories, suburban and metropolitan. Only New Orleans is featured as prominently, as would be expected given Hurricane Katrina related events, Detroit also appears in all three categories, principally due to its core, the politics and economics devastated city of Detroit.

Why are They Moving?

African-American kids (read families) are leaving the core cities around the nation for various reasons. Some of the exodus appears to be the result of gentrification, as more affluent groups migrate into formerly African-American neighborhoods. Sometimes this is due to market forces, but it can also be  facilitated by public subsidies,  Portland is such an example (see The White City and In Portland’s heart, 2010 Census shows diversity dwindling).

But there’s good news too. Many African-American families are moving up the economic ladder and moving to where schools are perceived to be more functional and safer, and where they can have larger houses, larger yards and more privacy. City of St. Louis Alderman Antonio French reacted to the African-American population exodus noting that “Black families don’t want to live in high-crime areas. They don’t want to live where they don’t feel safe. They don’t want to live where there aren’t educational opportunities, economic opportunities. A lot of black families went to [suburban] St. Louis County looking for a better life.” Better lives is what really matters.

Note: Major metropolitan areas had more than 1,000,000 population in 2010. The metropolitan areas are defined as in 2010. Core cities are the historical core municipalities of the major metropolitan areas. These exclude principal cities that are suburban areas with large employment bases.

Wendell Cox is Chair, Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California) and principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm.

He is co-author of the “Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey” and author of “Demographia World Urban Areas” and “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.” He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Photo by Martin Lenders for the U.S. Census Bureau (the U.S. Census Bureau Photo Services) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This article was originally published by on 9/17/2015