Trails South

By Published on .

The number of African Americans that the city of Atlanta welcomed over the past decade — 460,000 — would itself constitute a fair sized metropolitan area. The figure is even more stunning when you consider that Atlanta had fewer than 750,000 blacks prior to 1990.

What accounts for the leap? Demographer and Milken Institute Senior Fellow William H. Frey offers two possible explanations: natural increases in the pre-existing population, and movement south — or what he calls “a new wave of black migration.� This would be a reversal of the northward black migration that occurred between 1940 and 1970. Many metro areas are feeling the effects, including Orlando, Norfolk, and Charlotte. Now the bulk of those making the move appears to be younger people seeking opportunities. But the numbers may also foreshadow a return to the South by retiring black Boomers whose families left years earlier. (The Census Bureau's official analysis of migration patterns isn't expected until year's end — at the earliest.)

Meanwhile, black gains in metros located in the Northeast and the Rust Belt constitute mostly “natural growth,� says Frey. Providing some confirmation: the percentage gains in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit all hover around 15 percent, compared with 62 percent gains in Atlanta and Orlando, and a 35 percent rise in Charlotte. There's no denying the changing face of Southern metros.

Metro Areas with Greatest White Losses

Los Angeles lost over 800,000 whites over the past decade, leading a pack of white-shedding metros.

1 Los Angeles — Riverton — Orange County, CA 843,000
2 New York — Northern New Jersey — Long Island, NY-NJ-CT-PA 680,000
3 San Francisco — Oakland — San Jose, CA 270,000
4 Philadelphia — Wilmington — Atlantic City, PA-NJ-DE-MD 119,000
5 Miami — Fort Lauderdale, FL 119,000
6 Chicago — Gary — Kenosha, IL-IN-WI 94,000
7 San Diego, CA 84,000
8 Pittsburgh, PA 82,000
9 Honolulu, HI 74,000
10 Buffalo — Niagra Falls, NY 61,000
11 Hartford, CT 48,000
12 Milwaukee — Racine, WI 40,000
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, William H. Frey analysis
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