The two enclaves of roughly 30,000 people reflect how Black migration patterns in the 21st century are changing the makeup of metropolitan areas nationwide. For decades, Black residents have been leaving some of the nation’s largest cities while suburbs have seen an increase in their Black populations. Those two trends have now spread to even more areas of the country, according to the 2020 U.S. census.
The patterns echo the “white flight” that upended urban landscapes in the 20th century. Like those who left cities before them, Black residents often move because of worries about crime and a desire for reputable schools, affordable housing and amenities. But there are key differences: Leaving Black city neighborhoods that are starved for investment is often more of a necessity than a choice, and those who do settle into new suburban lives often find racial inequities there, too.
From 1990 to 2000, 13 of the United States’ biggest cities lost Black residents. By 2020, it was 23. According to the census, roughly 54% of Black residents within the 100 biggest American metro areas were suburbanites in 2020, up from 43% two decades ago, according to Bill Frey of the Brookings Institution.
While New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia all lost Black residents from 2010 to 2020, the change was especially notable in Chicago, which gained population but lost 85,000 Black people, the highest number after Detroit, according to the 2020 census. Those numbers could vary slightly, as the Census Bureau reported last week that 3.3% of the Black population was undercounted in the 2020 census, a rate higher than in 2010.
To summarize from the data presented above: among Black residents in the largest metropolitan areas in the United States, the majority now live in the suburbs.
This trend is several decades in the making. Traditionally, a move to the suburbs in the United States is interpreted as finding success in the land of single-family homes and middle-class and above life. Yet, not all suburban lives or communities are created equal. From the banning of Black and other minority residents from suburbs in the past to more informal methods today to exclude residents, residential patterns are uneven in the suburbs.
This also adds to the ongoing complexity of the suburbs where populations and communities are changing. The suburbs are not static even as they might as a whole adhere to similar ideals and ways of life.