There’s a radical reorganization of Chicago’s population going on right beneath our eyes, and very few of us are seeing the whole picture. That’s why we have demographers. And Rob Paral, of Rob Paral and Associates, is among the most often-quoted of Chicago’s practitioners.
He’s our guest for the second half of this week’s show, which begins right around the 28:30 mark.
First, the demolition of an accepted fact. Many of the African-Americans who’ve been leaving Chicago are moving to Atlanta. Turns out that’s not quite right. They’re moving to the suburbs of Atalanta (and other southern cities.) In fact, the black population of Atlanta is actually dropping.
But meanwhile, here in Chicago, things are fluid. “And the situation is that the white population is growing and actually growing faster than Latinos even which is a story in itself,” he explains. “Latinos are growing, Asians are growing, but we have an exodus of blacks in Chicago that it’s hard to put a good adjective on it because of the size and the scope. It just keeps going year after year anywhere from ten to 20,000 people and we’ve been going for a couple of decades of this.”
Chicago’s black population reached its peak in 1980, and has been slowly declining since, Paral informs us.
We’ve all heard the reports that Chicago’s overall population is on the decline, and how that limits our city’s politics, power and status. But Paral sorts out the numbers by sub-populations and finds some truly alarming trends.
“When white population was declining and there was black population decline we were stable and in fact in the ‘90s we grew because of Latino growth and that was driven by immigration. So you had neighborhoods anywhere from Pilsen down to the further South West side going out towards Midway Airport. You could pick any number of neighborhoods, North West side, Belmont-Cragin and they were just really growing. Schools were growing, full of kids, etc. That’s all turning around too now though.”
Paral reports that the white population is growing, but it’s complicated.The white population is actually churning along age and income parameters.
“So actually we’ve got two things going on,” he tells us. “We do have people leaving Elmwood Park, places like that, North West side. They are retiring. They are moving away. They’re not having children. Their children are moving out of the city. But then we have just an incredible influx of people and not just whites, but there are a lot of young white people getting out of college coming to Chicago living anywhere from Roosevelt Road on the South to as far North as you want to go – Montrose or North out to Western Avenue just booming. You look at the housing growth, housing development, jobs, etc. So you’ve got this center of the doughnut just kind of expanding and bursting at the seams in Chicago and that explains a lot of the white growth.”
So, to recap – we’re losing black residents at a rate that almost equals the dramatic influx of new black residents during the “second migration” in the mid- twentieth century. Latino numbers continue to increase slightly, but there are fewer immigrants arriving here now, and much of the population is suburbanizing, so it’s difficult to predict that this population will continue to increase. And the new white arrivals tend in general to be young, well educated people riding the tech boom. Whether they’ll stay in Chicago in this new, highly mobile culture remains to be seen.
And here’s an interesting possible cause for the slowing of Mexican immigration that has nothing at all to do with Building The Wall. But it does have to do with he rising affluence in Mexico.
“The average woman in Mexico up until the 1970s had something like eight children, I mean a really large number per child and that’s been plummeting, which actually is a factor in the changing immigration.” There’s just less pressure to leave Mexico, Paral says.
But Chicago does remain an excellent city for immigrants, if it still wants to be one. “You know, Chicago is not a pretentious city,” he muses. “You could say oh my gosh those are small houses. Those are narrow streets. You could say who would want to live here? You could say that by the standards of the average typical American. But you know what, you know who wants to live there? Immigrants want to live there and that’s been our history, so we’re set up to do that and that’s why the things we are doing right now are so self-damaging about immigration.”
“Well, go back to 1920 in Chicago,” he asserts. “This city was 30 or 40% foreign-born, and if you included the children of the immigrants it was more than half foreign born, a huge foreign-born (population)”
From a political perspective, the coming redistricting of Illinois’ congressional districts and the City Council Ward map could be incredibly challenging for Chicago.
“After this next census of 2020, Illinois is actually balanced on a cliff right now,” he claims. “We’re going to lose one congressional district without a doubt. We could lose two and we could lose two because of a sloppy census count. Chicago and Illinois and Cook County every government needs to just have an all-hands-on deck situation on how to get a good census count, keep an extra congressional district. The other thing that a census and a low census is going to do to us it’s going to really make redistricting of Chicago wards complicated…It’s going to be harder to draw wards that elect blacks. There’s going to be fewer where you’re going to have a super majority of blacks.”
We ask if he has advice for our new Mayor and Aldermen. “Talk to the African American community.” he demands. “Talk to leaders in the community. Talk to pastors. Talk to people on the street. What is going on? Because no one has explained the black out- migration. We don’t know why it’s happening really, so find out what’s going on. Listen to people, what are their concerns and address them.?
You can watch the show by tapping the image above and moving to about the 28:30 mark.
You can listen to the show here.
You can read a full transcript here: CN transcript April 25 2019a