Tonia Wellons, who lives in Upper Marlboro, Md., noticed something about her son’s soccer team last year that warmed her heart. “It was probably as diverse as one could get — there were African American, Hispanic, first-generation African, people from the Caribbean.”
The team portrait reflected a growing diversity in the county of everyone except white people, whose numbers have been steadily declining. New data released by the Census Bureau on Thursday shows the percentage of whites in the county has dropped by half since 2000 to 12.7, while the portion of Hispanics has dramatically increased from 7.1 to 18.5 percent, and the portion of black people has remained steady at around 62 percent.
The demographic changes tell a story of a county that is still seen as a mecca for middle class black families and increasingly attractive to Hispanics — a trend that is reflected in many suburban areas across the United States even as black-white segregation persists in some areas.
Even as the United States becomes increasingly diverse, neighborhood segregation patterns persist in large urban areas, including in the Washington metro region, according to five-year trend data from the Census Bureau.
Segregation has remained most entrenched between black and white residents, while segregation between whites and Hispanics and whites and Asians is more fluid, according to an analysis of the bureau’s latest American Community Survey data.
Some of the starkest black-white urban divide can be seen in Midwestern and Northeastern cities with long-concentrated and slow-growing black populations, including Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, New York and St. Louis, said William Frey, a senior demographer at the Brookings Institution, who analyzed the data.
These cities all have segregation levels above 70, meaning that 70 percent or more of black residents would have to move into a different neighborhood to fully integrate the city. But overall, segregation was down since 2000, when several metropolitan areas had levels above 80. The urban area with the lowest black-white segregation level is Las Vegas, at 39.5.
In the Washington region, the black-white segregation level was 61.3, down from 63.6 in 2000.
Frey also examined changes in the racial compositions of neighborhoods where white people live, and found that the average white resident in large metropolitan areas lives in a more racially and ethnically mixed neighborhood now than in 2000. In 2000, the average white person in these areas lived in a neighborhood that was 78.9 percent white, whereas from 2013 to 2017, the years covered by the latest census data, that number dropped to 71.6 percent. At the same time, the number of black, Hispanic and Asian residents in those neighborhoods rose by several percentage points.
By contrast, although the average black person in a large U.S. metro area lives in a neighborhood that is more diverse than in 2000, the change does not reflect an increase in white residents. Their percentages stayed nearly flat. Instead, the change reflects an increase in Hispanic and Asian residents and a decline in black ones.
Segregation levels among Hispanics dipped in many metro areas, including places such as Los Angeles and New York that are historically “gateway” cities for new immigrants. But they rose by more than 10 points from previously low levels in cities such as Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, which have had recent increases in Hispanic population.
In the Washington region, neighborhood diversity increased more sharply than it did in large metropolitan areas nationwide, with the average white resident living in a neighborhood that is 61.1 percent white, down from 70.2 percent in 2000.
But locally, Hispanic-white segregation levels also increased, from 47.5 to 48.4, meaning that 48.4 percent of Hispanics would have to move to completely integrate the area. The average Hispanic resident in Washington is now likely to live in a neighborhood that has 5.6 percent more Hispanics than in 2000.
This is probably a reflection of a large influx of Hispanics in the area: More than a third of new residents since 2000, or 553,000 people, are Hispanic, and the region’s portion of the Hispanic population has nearly doubled, from 8.9 percent to 15.8 percent.
Long hailed as a mecca for the black middle class, Prince George’s County struggled during the recession. But county council member Derrick Leon Davis (D-District 6) said it has retained its appeal for affluent African Americans. “If you look at African American ethnicity and opportunity, there’s only one place that rivals Prince George’s for black people and that’s Atlanta,” he said.
In 2016, the county’s median household income increased to $79,184 from the previous year’s value of $76,741, well above the 2016 national average of $41,300 for African Americans.
Wellons, who is vice president of community investment at the Greater Washington Community Foundation, said the county is attractive to black and Hispanic residents because it is more affordable than surrounding metropolitan areas.
To her, the decline in white residents in Prince George’s is not surprising.
“Nationally when neighborhoods are more than 30 percent African American, white people tend to leave,” she said. But she questioned measuring the diversity or economic health of an area by how many whites live there. “It’s an interesting phenomenon that diversity is measured by the number of white people in a county,” she said, adding, “We’re not defining upwardly mobile by the number of white people in our county.”
Aaron Marcavitch, a white resident of Greenbelt, said white people he knows in the county have moved mostly because of the fluid nature of the job market, particularly for people with government jobs.
“I think the impact of how government is changing in this administration has quite a bit to do with moving populations — younger liberal employees move out as the administration does its hiring,” he said. “The people I know are 40ish and looking for job opportunities. So when I think of the (few) people who have moved recently it has more to do with taking a bigger job as the job market improves. Just recently I can think of two or three people moving to change jobs. That younger, under 40 crowd maybe tends to move more often than perhaps more stable African American suburban families.”
Although black-white segregation persists across all metropolitan areas, of the 53 surveyed, 45 have shown declines since 2000, including 16 that dropped by 5 points or more.
Some of the largest drops were in the South: Atlanta, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Miami, New Orleans, Orlando and Tampa.
“Typically, in the South in particular, there’s been a lot of black migration and growth,” Frey said, adding that black growth tends to be in suburban areas.
Now, he said, shifts are occurring elsewhere.
“Up until 20 years ago, a lot of the segregation declines were in the South, while a lot of northern areas were stuck in place, in old segregated neighborhoods formed before civil rights and housing legislation was enforced,” Frey said.
But black-white segregation levels are declining in other metro areas as well. Detroit and Kansas City showed drops of more than 10 points, reflecting movement within metropolitan areas that is helping to even out the percentages, he said.