In 1963, at an American University commencement address, President John F. Kennedy said, “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” Now, almost a half century later, and on the eve of the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, a new report released Wednesday suggests we may have taken a monumental step towards achieving both men’s vision in the last decade.
The report, conducted by Washington think tank the Brookings Institute, analyzed data from the 1990, 2000 and 2010 census and found that vast demographic upheavals were taking effect in some of the nation’s largest cities.
“The sweeping diversity that the census has shown for the whole United States is really super important for these large metropolitan areas,” says William H. Frey, a senior fellow and demographer at the Institute, who authored the report.
Since the 2000 Census, minority groups have accounted for 98% of the total population growth in the nation’s 100 largest urban centers, says Frey. “That’s huge.”
Frey also points out that there are now 22 cities, up from only 14 in 2000, across the U.S. where minorities have actually overtaken whites to become the majority.
“The entire metropolitan area of New York; not just the city but the entire metropolitan area,” says Frey, is now predominantly non-white, making it the largest city in the country, with a population of over 8 million, to transition.
According to the report, 42 of the nation’s largest metro areas have seen their white population actually shrink, although the country remains largely white. Whites, Frey says, still account for 57% of the population in large cities. “But that’s down from 71% in 1990 and 64% in 2000,” he adds.
And he says he only foresees the trend continuing. Dallas, Orlando and Atlanta, according to Frey, are the next big cities expected to become primarily non-white, with Chicago and Austin, Tex. likely to follow suit as the 2020 Census draws nearer.
Separately, the report verifies another well-reported trend that’s long been taking shape among many African- Americans. According to the report, three-quarters of the population gains Blacks saw over the last ten years has occurred in the South, with more and more Blacks choosing to abandon cities like New York, Chicago and Detroit for less hectic, more cost-effective places like Atlanta, Dallas and Houston.
Taken as a whole, Frey says that the major demographic shifts being witnessed across the U.S. means we will now have to look to cities as a compass for how to navigate our way through the increasingly complex thicket of race relations in our country, which he sees affecting everything from immigration policy to the work world.
“These places really are going to be the laboratories for change and for understanding this change that will disseminate out to the rest of the country,” he says.