Chicago’s Black population is at its lowest point in more than 60 years, according to 2020 census data released Thursday.
While the pace of Black population loss slowed over the past decade, the number of Chicago’s Black residents dipped to about 788,000 in 2020, according to the census data. That’s the lowest it’s been since before 1960.
Despite a decline of more than 180,000 from 2000 to 2010, with a population of more than 872,000, African Americans were still the city’s largest racial or ethnic group at the end of that decade. Now, they’re third.
The data released Thursday reflected overall growth trends and demographic shifts for the Chicago region that have been reflected in census estimates the past few years — stagnant growth overall with little or no growth for white and Black residents, while the numbers of Latinos and Asians increase at much faster rates.
The data show that white residents are Chicago’s largest group, but their numbers grew by just 1% over the past decade from roughly 855,000 in 2010 to about 864,000 in 2020. While annual census estimates the past few years had established that white residents surpassed Black residents as the city’s largest group, this is the first decennial census count to reflect that since 1980.
Latinos are now the city’s second-largest racial or ethnic group, growing by 5% — from roughly 779,000 in 2010 to nearly 820,000 in 2020. That’s a faster pace of growth than the 3% mark witnessed the previous decade but far short of the explosive growth Latinos witnessed during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Between 1990 and 2000, the Latino population in Chicago surged by more than 200,000, increasing by 38%.
Despite the shifts, the city’s populations of white, Latino and Black residents still remain comparable — they’re all within about 75,000 of one another.
Asian residents, the city’s fourth largest racial or ethnic group, are the city’s fastest-growing with their numbers rising from about 145,000 to about 190,000 — a 31% increase.
Overall, Chicago’s population grew by about 50,000 over the past decade from about 2.70 million to about 2.74 million, roughly a 2% increase. During the previous decade, the city’s population fell by 7%.
Chicago still remains the third largest city in America, but it did not grow as much as other large U.S. cities. Houston and Phoenix, for example, grew by nearly 10% or more in the past decade.
Suburban areas grew at roughly the same pace as Chicago. Suburban Cook County and the five collar counties — DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties — each witnessed growth of less than 3%.
Latinos and Asians were the fastest growing groups in those areas with their numbers increasing across the board at levels ranging from 7% to 39%. Conversely, the number of white residents declined in each of those areas at levels ranging from 7% to nearly 11%.
Illinois lost population from 2010 to 2020, much of it in the southern and western parts of the state. Mississippi and West Virginia were the only other states to lose population during the past decade. In Indiana, the population grew by nearly 5%.
Aurora remains the second-largest city in Illinois, but it saw a steep drop in population, falling from about 198,000 in 2010 to about 181,000 in 2020, according to the data released Thursday. With more than 150,000 residents, Joliet has overtaken Rockford as the state’s third-largest city. Naperville ranks fourth, and Rockford slides to fifth.
The data released Thursday were highly anticipated, as they will be used by officials across the country to redraw congressional and state legislative boundaries. However, the cloud of challenges due to 2020’s tumultuous political climate and the COVID-19 pandemic hover over the data and raise concerns about their accuracy. But Ron Jarmin, the census bureau’s acting director, said in a virtual press conference Thursday that he was confident in the accuracy of the results.
“While no census is perfect, we are confident that today’s redistricting results meet our high data quality standards,” he said.
The results of the 2020 census were delayed for months due to the pandemic and the Trump administration’s legal interference in the count. In addition, natural disasters throughout the U.S., dropped quality control measures, and tech troubles with a new enumeration app posed further challenges for the census bureau.
Robert Santos, one of the country’s leading statisticians who has been tapped by the Biden administration to be the next director of the U.S. Census Bureau, told WBEZ last October that the 2020 census could be “perhaps the worst census ever.” He said undercounts were likely in places like Chicago, which have large populations of hard-to-count communities, including immigrants and residents of color.
The Census Bureau is expected to release its analysis of over- and undercounts in early 2022.
Thursday’s data release came in a format designed for more experienced data analysts — in order to help states begin their redistricting process. A more user-friendly format is expected to be released in September.
Alden Loury is the senior editor of WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow him on Twitter @AldenLoury.
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.