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THE NEW YORK TIMES
Whites in Minority in Largest Cities, the Census Shows
By ERIC SCHMITT
April 30, 2001
WASHINGTON For the first time, nearly half of the nation's 100 largest cities are home to more blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities than whites, an analysis of the latest census figures shows.
While the population of the country's fastest-growing cities, like Las Vegas and Phoenix, increased in all racial and ethnic categories, the vast majority of American cities 71 of the top 100 lost white residents.
As a result, non-Hispanic whites are now a minority of the total population living in the 100 largest urban centers.
Even as whites were leaving many urban cores for suburbs and beyond, the nation's largest cities gained 3.8 million Hispanic residents, a 43 percent increase from a decade ago.
The mixture of white flight from downtowns and the influx of Hispanics, in particular, underscores the extent to which immigration and higher birth rates among the foreign- born are changing the complexion of cities, fueling a renaissance in some urban centers and forcing civic leaders to confront wrenching decisions on how to cope with a new and fast- changing citizenry.
"What this shows is the volatility and complexity of change in the United States today," said Bruce Katz, director of the Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy at the Brookings Institution here. "Who's staying and who's leaving the cities has enormous implications for cities' fiscal strength, economic vitality and political influence."
Many of these new findings are contained in a draft analysis prepared by the Brookings urban policy center, which offers some of the most detailed evidence to date of increasing diversity in the nation's cities and carries major public policy implications for city officials.
For example, Mr. Katz said, cities' tax bases may be shrinking. Economic data from the 2000 head count will not be out until next year, but the Census Bureau's latest estimates indicate that median annual household income was about $14,000 less for Hispanic households than for non- Hispanic white households.
The shifting ethnic and racial balance of urban populations may also force cities to rethink how they structure and deliver health care, public education and general municipal services to typically younger and larger minority families, the researchers said.
The makeover of the nation's urban profile is already under way. In Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, a high school dropout who went on to become speaker of the California Assembly, is hoping to ride the city's surging Latino population into office as the city's first Hispanic mayor since 1872.
In Chicago, which gained 208,000 Hispanics in the decade to fuel its first overall population increase since 1950, Mayor Richard M. Daley has championed a revival plan to improve neighborhoods, renovate old buildings and spruce up public places with trees and flowers.
Some cities, however, are struggling. Detroit's white population plunged 53 percent in the last decade, as the city's overall population dipped below one million for the first time in 80 years.
Smaller cities are dealing with the influx of Hispanics in very different ways. Anti-Latino sentiment in Siler City, N.C., where poultry operations have attracted thousands of Mexican immigrants, grew to the point where David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, was invited last year to help stem the immigrant wave.
In Dalton, Ga., a major carpet manufacturing center, the city council and community leaders have taken steps to assimilate new immigrants, including the recruitment of teachers from Mexico to teach bilingual school classes.
The Brookings analysis focused on cities, but the conclusion that Hispanics are displacing whites as an increasing share of the population is true even in many suburbs. Cities, however, have their own changing demographic profile.
Whites are now a majority in 52 of the biggest 100 cities, down from 70 in 1990, researchers found. Over all, the top 100 cities lost more than two million whites between 1990 and 2000, with the white share of the total population falling to 44 percent from 52 percent. Among the cities experiencing the biggest declines in white population were Birmingham, Ala., which experienced a 40 percent reduction, and Santa Ana, Calif., in Orange County, which had a 38 percent drop.
Alan Berube, a senior research analyst at the Brookings Institution who conducted much of the center's analysis, said the ability of people to identify themselves as belonging to more than one race in the 2000 census could mean that the decline in cities' white population was slightly less than 2.3 million people.
It is possible, he said, that some people who identified themselves as white in 1990 classified themselves as multiracial in the latest census, explaining perhaps a small part of the decline in white population.
Many cities, including Boston, Los Angeles and Dallas, would have lost population over all in the 1990's were it not for big gains in the number of Hispanics, the researchers found.
An exception to the trend of Hispanics moving to the cities was the Washington area, where Latinos are more likely to move to the Maryland and Virginia suburbs than to the District of Columbia itself.
"The most important factor for public officials to be aware of in the next 10 to 20 years is that the vitality of cities will depend on their ability to attract and be a hospitable environment for minorities," said John R. Logan, director of the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research at the State University of New York at Albany.
"At the moment, minority populations are perceived largely in terms of potential problems in providing public services, or for their potential for creating new political divisions, instead of in terms of the contributions they're making to the vitality of the city," Mr. Logan said.
In 18 of the 100 largest cities, whites slipped into the minority in the 1990's, bringing the total number of those cities where whites are the minority to 48. In some cities, like Anaheim and Riverside in Southern California, Hispanic immigration was the main reason the number of non-Hispanic whites declined between 16 and 21 percent as a share of the total urban population.
Rochester, where the white population declined to 44 percent from 58 percent, was emblematic of many cities in upstate New York suffering from slow economic growth and what Mr. Katz called a "spreading out" of the metropolis to the suburbs.
Over all, the analysis found that cities that bucked the trend of declining white population grew rapidly in the 1990's. These included Sun Belt cities like Austin, Tex. (a 21 percent increase in the white population), and Las Vegas (49 percent).
In the 20 fastest-growing cities, the Brookings analysis found that the white population rose 5 percent, the black population 23 percent, the Asian population 69 percent and the Hispanic population 72 percent.
"The decline in non-Hispanic whites is greater than we expected, and we don't really know what's going on," said Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California.
Many demographers in California said they were focusing on other indicators of shifting diversity, which Mr. Myers said might be more relevant to policy makers seeking to understand the multiethnic balance in their cities.
In California, for instance, even though non-Hispanic whites are now a minority, 73 percent of the voters who cast ballots in last November's elections were white, while only 36 percent of children enrolled in public schools are white, he said.