White Population Way Down In Suburban Chicago | WBEZ
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White Population Way Down In Suburban Chicago

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to add context and to correct an error. The story now more clearly defines the Chicago metropolitan area, includes total population and percent change figures for the metro area’s white population, and provides more detail about the metro area’s changes in black population. Also, an earlier version misidentified the metro area’s total growth in Asian and Latino populations. That earlier version presented growth figures for those groups in Cook County.

Since 2010, the Chicago metro area has lost more white residents than any other racial group, according to a WBEZ analysis of U.S. Census Bureau population estimates released Thursday.

The Chicago metro area — which covers 14 counties, including nine in northeast Illinois, four in northwest Indiana and one in southeast Wisconsin — lost about 220,000 white residents between 2010 and 2018. The drop in white population over that span of years has occurred entirely in the suburbs. Chicago, especially in areas near downtown, has witnessed white population growth since 2010, according to previously released census data.

The region's white population declined from about 5.216 million in 2010 to about 4.996 million in 2018, roughly a 4.2% decline. Cook County lost more than 100,000 white residents between 2010 and 2018, with most of that decline occurring since 2014. Kendall County was the only county in the Chicago metro area to see an uptick in white population.

At the same time, the number of Latino and Asian residents has grown in each of the 14 counties in the metro area. Overall, from 2010 to 2018, the region’s Latino population grew by more than 171,000, while the Asian population increased by more than 128,000, according to the census estimates released Thursday.

The region's black population fell by more than 68,000. Cook County lost about 76,000 black residents from 2010 to 2018, with most of that black population decline occurring in Chicago. The black population also fell in Lake County, Indiana. But it increased in all other counties in the metro area. A few counties — Will, DuPage, and Kendall — each gained a few thousand black residents.

Indiana University sociologist Samuel Kye says population trends suggest that white residents move to other towns once nonwhite groups become 20% to 25% of the population. “Past that point, white flight is going to be more likely,” Kye said.

The nonwhite population is more than 20% in at least three quarters of Cook County’s 135 municipalities, according to a WBEZ analysis of census data.

Kye’s 2018 research examined the changing racial makeup of suburbs in the 150 largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

“White flight” historically described the movement of white residents out of the city into the suburbs, in response to black residents moving into their neighborhoods. In Chicago, some neighborhoods, like North Lawndale on the city’s West Side and Englewood on the city’s South Side, flipped from mostly white to mostly black within a decade.

Kye says that phenomenon now extends from the suburbs to further towns still, and sometimes to other parts of the country.

“More recently, white flight is actually more likely in middle-class, suburban neighborhoods than their poorer [urban] counterparts,” Kye said.

He added that, in the past 15 years or so, white populations also have been leaving places that have seen the growth of other minority groups, like Asians and Latinos, not just African Americans.

Northwestern University professor Lincoln Quillian said other factors contribute to the white population loss in Chicago’s suburbs.

“There’s been a nationwide movement of younger, more affluent people into central cities,” he said. “People also have fewer kids on average and are likely to stay childless for longer, and so that makes living in the central city more appealing.”

Quillian also cited the “business explosion” in Chicago’s downtown as a reason why many white residents are moving out of the suburbs and into the city.

A WBEZ analysis of previously released American Community Survey data from the census bureau showed that most of the suburbs in Cook County have lost white residents in recent years.

Comparing datasets covering the five-year periods ending in 2012 and 2017, WBEZ found that south suburban Oak Lawn lost the most white residents in Cook County, about 5,200. That loss was essentially replaced by the village’s combined growth in Latino, black and Asian residents, the analysis showed.

Northwest suburban Schaumburg lost about 4,400 white residents, but also gained an additional 3,800 Asian residents.

Other towns in Cook County that lost more than 3,000 white residents, according to the WBEZ analysis, include northwest suburban Hoffman Estates, north suburban Skokie and west suburban Berwyn — all municipalities that saw growth in minority populations.

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter at @estheryjkang.

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