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Ups and Downs



I was trying to decide what to write for the Summer Newsletter. I thought about topics like the zombie eviction moratoria – just when you think they are finally dead, they pop back to life yet again… or all those billions of federal relief dollars earmarked for rent relief that were supposed to keep tenants and housing providers alive, but that have been endlessly tied up in red tape and administrative hell... or the elephant in the room – the Delta variant of COVID-19 that is rampaging across the country and that has completely dashed our brief hope that we would be “back to normal” by the Fourth of July.

But then I decided I’d better come up with something else. I know everyone is getting sick of hearing me bitch, bitch, bitch! So I scratched my head and pondered – what can I write about that is both exciting and globally interesting. Of course, there was really only one possible answer… the 2020 US Census!

Yeah, I know… I’m probably the only person who thinks the 2020 census is exciting and globally interesting. When I was ten and all the other kids were trading baseball cards, I was reading the World Almanac and memorizing population statistics. I knew all the major cities by size and rank. I knew demographics like Marty Max knows the Cubs!

So, of course, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the delayed results of the 2020 census. When they finally started coming out this August, my patience was rewarded. I felt like a kid waking up on Christmas morning with reams of new population statistics for review and analysis my long anticipated prize!

But seriously folks, even if you don’t share my weird enthusiasm for this data (and few of you do), there are still some results that are probably interesting enough to be worth writing about. Anyway, it’s my column, so here we go.

Let’s start (and end) with Chicago. There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth in recent years about projected population losses in our beautiful city, the region and the state. Turns out, at least for the city and region, those estimates were incorrect. The city actually gained about 50,000 people between 2010 and 2020, and gains in the Chicago region almost completely offset loses downstate, resulting in a population decline in Illinois of just under 8,000 people, or 6/100ths of a percent.

This was surprising since Census Bureau population estimates had shown losses for Chicago and the region for a number of years running, starting in about the middle of the decade. The decennial census – which is a count, not an estimate – proves that, in fact, Chicago has gained population over the past ten years.

But this is as much a glass half-empty as half-full. It’s great that Chicago did not lose population. But it’s not so great that, once again, Chicago grew by the smallest percentage of any of the nation’s twenty largest cities. Consider New York which now has a population of just over 8.8 million people, the largest in its history, and a gain of more than 600,000 people since 2010. Many of the cities in the top 20 gained by double digits, including Phoenix, Austin, Jacksonville, Fort Worth (number 1 with a 24% gain), Columbus, Charlotte, Seattle, Denver and Washington, DC. Even Philadelphia is growing faster than Chicago. But, hey, we did better than Detroit which lost another 10% of its population. Detroit is now the 27th largest city in the country and has fewer people than El Paso (23rd) or Oklahoma City (22nd)!

Beyond Chicago, the 2020 US Census confirms some trends that we all suspected, but now have the numbers to prove. Generally speaking, cities and suburbs are growing – rural areas are not. Cities and suburbs account for an ever-growing share of the total US population – now about 87% of the total. The country is becoming increasingly diverse and the dominance of whites in the general population continues to decline – now down to about 57% of the total, and projected to fall below 50% within the next 10-20 years.

These trends are very evident in Chicago and Illinois which saw large gains among Latinos (up 40,000 or 5%) and Asians (up 45,000 – a whopping 31% increase), but steady or declining populations of whites (up 9,000 or 1%) and blacks (down 85,000 or almost 10%). There are now more Latinos (819,000) in Chicago than blacks (787,000), a historic demographic reversal with possible political consequences. Whites remain the largest single group (863,000) in the city, but only by a small margin. The Asian population is surging with 189,000 people or 7% of the city’s total population. The bottom line? Chicago is, more and more, an international melting pot.

I can’t wait to get census tract-level data to see what’s going on in Rogers Park. This has not yet been released, but will be by the next Newsletter. I know – SO EXCITING. It will be like waiting for Christmas morning all over again!




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