A Black Exodus
In addition to slower growth within Chicago’s Latinx/a/o population, the third reason for the decline in the city’s population has been the continued out-migration of Black families—a large-scale Black exodus.
There were 85,000 fewer Black residents in Chicago in 2020 compared to 10 years prior when the Black population was the largest racial group in the city.
Since 2000, Chicago has lost more than 260,000 Black residents. The Black population is the lowest it has been since the 1960 census and is now the third-largest population group in the city. Whereas other population groups have seen declines based primarily on total births, the decline in Black residents is being driven by a mass departure of these families from the city.
As an example, Englewood, one of Chicago’s 77 community areas, boasted nearly 100,000 people in 1960 but is now home to about 22,000.
These local population shifts are critical as we consider the future of public schools in Chicago. As noted, CPS currently enrolls more than 80% of all school-age children in the city. However, different demographic populations enroll in public schools to varying degrees.
As of 2018, more than 85% of Black and Latinx/a/o children are enrolled in public schools in Chicago, on par with the 80% of Asian families who choose CPS. However, only 55% of Chicago’s White school-age children are CPS students.
What's driving the black exodus? According to a 2020 report from the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), “Black population trends in Chicago are associated with trends in levels of racial inequality, as indicated by racial disparities in unemployment and wages.”
Chicago was once seen as a mecca for Black opportunity. But, as UIC’s report notes, a variety of factors have led to the exodus, including the demolition of public housing, the closing of public schools, the continuing effects of foreclosures and the housing crisis, the lack of access to health care, the prevalence of food deserts, the substantial wage gaps, and the high unemployment rates. High rates of crime and violence are symptoms of inequities and have also influenced many Black families’ decisions to leave the city. The latest factor is the disproportionate impact of the pandemic felt by Chicago’s Black residents.
Today, we are watching a Great Migration in reverse.