“The growth of the nation’s largest cities is always a story of immigration, whether you’re talking about Los Angeles or North Carolina,” said Chris Hoene, director of research for the National League of Cities, noting that immigrants often gravitate toward cities and, after a while, move to the suburbs.
More than four in five Americans live in metropolitan areas, and suburbs are growing more quickly than cities.
This is the first decade in which Hispanic growth in the South has been sizable, and the region is slowly coming to grips with the political and cultural implications of demographic change.
Atlanta gained whites, Asians and Hispanics. But it no longer appears to be the destination of choice for African American professionals who move to the South and settle directly in the city’s suburbs. Since 2000, Atlanta’s black population has declined by 32,000, many of whom moved to the suburbs.
‘Too busy to hate’
More than one in 10 residents in the Atlanta metropolitan region are foreign-born. Voter registration has not caught up with the change, said Harvey Newman, an urban policy expert at Georgia State University, but when it does, it will change the politics of the city and surrounding counties.
“The city has continued to pat itself on the back as having good relations between blacks and whites,” said Newman, who served on a committee formed by U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) to focus on the region’s growing multiculturalism. “We were the city that was too busy to hate. But in recent years, we’ve moved from black-white to a multicultural population. I think neither race, whites nor blacks, has realized the impact of that change.”
In one sign of the growing impact that Hispanics are having on American cities, the National Urban League, which has created an annual equality index for black Americans, instituted an index for Hispanics last year.
“It will be interesting to see how it challenges politics,” Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans, said of the rising numbers of Latinos and Asians and the diminishing counts of black and whites. “It shows the necessity of building coalitions.”
Some demographers say the trends in the 2010 Census would have been more acute had the recession not kept in place people who could not find jobs or sell their houses.
“The urban cores did better than they would have,” said Kenneth M. Johnson, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire who studied Chicago demographics when he was at Loyola University. “This recession has had more impact than any demographic occurrence I’ve ever seen, except for the inflow of Hispanics.”
Chicago’s Hispanic population grew by 25,000 over the past decade, an eighth of what it gainedin the previous decade. That suggests more Hispanics are abandoning Chicago for the suburbs, Johnson said. Chicago and Detroit were the only cities among the largest 20 that got smaller over the decade.
When the economy improves, Johnson said, more people will probably move to the suburbs, both city dwellers and new immigrants who settle there directly. There’s little that cities can do to retain young people once they marry and have children.
“A lot of them are staying put now, because they can’t sell those condos they bought,” Johnson said. “Now they’re shifting from one life cycle to another, having families. I’m not sure what cities can do to hold on to them. They’re going to go to the suburbs.”