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A look at Chicago census data shows population growth

Asian residents are early in the immigration cycle. Their numbers grew by 31%, the most among the city’s major ethnic groups. They’re still mainly foreign-born at 67%, down from 73% two decades ago. To date, there has been no wholesale movement of Asian residents away from central Chicago; 37% were in the same five community areas in 2020 as in 2010. On the other hand, due to their higher levels of income and education, coupled with a high rate of intermarriage, many Asian newcomers settle in the core to start with. Chicago’s Asian population is up in all central community areas.

Chicago’s Black community is headed in three different directions.

On the whole, the 2020 census showed Chicago’s Black community making modest progress economically. The Black poverty rate fell from 34% to 26%, and Black college graduates increased by 23,000, despite the loss of 85,000 Black residents overall. However, a closer look reveals three diverging narratives:

• The West Side is in transition, with departing Black households giving way to those of other ethnicities, primarily Hispanic residents. The five Far West Side community areas—Humboldt Park, Austin, East and West Garfield Park and North Lawndale—shifted from 81% Black and 14% Hispanic in 2000 to 67% Black and 26% Hispanic in 2020. Total households and dwellings increased during the 2010s.

• Interior South Side Black neighborhoods remain in decline. The bulk of Black population loss during the 2010s—61,000 people—occurred in this area. An influx of Hispanic residents is offsetting the loss of Black community members in some sections, but a cluster of eight communities stretching south and east from Englewood and West Englewood collectively lost 1,200 households and 3,000 dwellings, suggesting the area is emptying out.

• The south lakefront is becoming integrated into the core, with increasing population, income and educational attainment. As we’ve previously reported, this area, consisting of eight communities extending from the South Loop to South Shore, is becoming more like the north lakefront, with growing numbers of college-educated professionals who work downtown. It’s becoming more diverse but remains predominantly Black. We believe this development is of critical importance.

At first glance, a scattered but growing band of Far South Side neighborhoods with above-average numbers of college graduates suggests the old middle-class Black communities stretching from South Shore to Beverly are starting to revive. On closer inquiry, the apparent increase is more a function of subtraction than addition. Many of the college grads are aging holdovers from the 1970s and ’80s, when the communities were Black professional enclaves; younger Black families without college degrees are leaving. Still, the area did gain 5,000 grads and remains largely middle income, so there’s hope.

Realistically, though, the south lakefront is going to have to redevelop first. We can’t emphasize enough: What Chicago’s Black community needs above all is to attract more college graduates. The sure way to do that is to establish a lively Bronzeville commercial district to serve as a gateway, drawing in talented kids from elsewhere and, eventually, funneling them into other South Side neighborhoods. That’s what the north lakefront does for North Side neighborhoods. Decades will pass before Black grads arriving outnumber non-college grads leaving. But that’s the way forward, make no mistake.

Chicago is still mostly middle class.

Some analyzes have purported to show Chicago’s middle class has almost vanished, but census data indicates these claims are exaggerated. Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan research group, defines middle class as having household income between two-thirds and 200% of the regional median—in metro Chicago’s case, $50,000 to $149,000 for 2020. By this standard, 62% of city households were middle income; 34% were lower; and 4% upper. Ten years earlier, the numbers were 62% middle; 37% lower; and 1% upper.

The citywide poverty rate—20% in 2000—rose to 24% in 2012, and has since fallen to 16%. The city’s median household income still lags that of the region, but the gap is narrowing. In 2010, the city’s median income was 77% of the region’s; in 2020, it was 83%.

In sum, we find grounds for cautious optimism. Still, if the numbers tell us one thing, our eyes tell us another.

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