New data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed Chicago lost residents for the third consecutive year.
While Chicago remains the third-largest city in the country, it’s the only one that lost population among the 15 largest cities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The change was almost imperceptible at first: Chicago lost about 350 residents from 2013 to 2014, then about 5,000 residents from 2014 to 2015. From 2015 to last year, Chicago lost nearly 9,000, according to the data.
But those numbers should be put in perspective, said Alden Loury, director of research and evaluation at the Metropolitan Planning Council, who noted the total population lost from 2013 to 2016 represents about one half of one percent of Chicago’s population.
However, the fact that this is the third year in a row that Chicago’s population has declined offers a moment for reflection, he said.
“You ask yourself what other cities are seeing that kind of continuous loss, you’ll run into cities like Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis,” Loury said.
“The general perception is that those are cities that are struggling, and so the indication, I think, from these numbers is that Chicago is having struggles of some sort.”
The annual population estimates released Thursday don’t offer a lot of demographic detail, so Loury analyzed 2015 American Community Survey data to get a better sense of who is leaving the city and why.
Between 2010 and 2015, Chicago’s African-American population dropped by about 60,000, according to the Metropolitan Planning Council. It’s the only major ethnic or racial group to lose population in the city over those years.
“The picture appears to be emerging that population loss in Chicago is becoming essentially a story about African Americans and about African American neighborhoods,” Loury said. “There may actually be a real state of emergency in those communities.”
Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @pksmid.