Metro going majority black
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By Jimmie Covington
December 31, 2006
The Memphis metro area is poised in a few years to become the nation's first large metropolitan area with a majority African-American population.
A good indication of what's to come can be gleaned from 2005 U.S. Census Bureau estimates that show the non-Hispanic white population in the eight-county Memphis metro area dipping below 50 percent for the first time.
The estimates show that group at 622,235 residents, or 49.4 percent of the area's 1,260,905 residents. The same 2005 estimates show 568,875 African-American residents, or 45.1 percent of the total population.
The numbers mean that while the non-Hispanic white population is still the largest group in terms of percentage, no single group makes up more than 50 percent of the total population -- for now. If current birth-death and migration trends continue, African-Americans will claim the 50 percent-plus distinction.
When that happens, the Memphis area may draw even more study than it is already receiving, says Dr. Louis Pol, a demographer at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a former faculty member at the University of Memphis.
"Clearly, people will be asking questions about how does a metro area with a predominantly African-American population do with regard to economic development, job growth and that type thing," he said.
"There will be issues regarding political structure and how people vote and whether or not they have been successful in bringing county and city services together. That is always a big issue in lots of places."
The Memphis area doesn't have the largest or the fastest-growing African-American population, but for several decades it has ranked No. 1 in percentage of African-American population among the nation's large metro areas.
The 2000 Census showed the Memphis area's black population at 43.2 percent. In the No. 2 spot was New Orleans at 37.4 percent, but Hurricane Katrina in 2005 resulted in a drastic reduction in New Orleans' population.
The U.S. already has 14 other metropolitan areas in which groups other than non-Hispanic whites make up more than 50 percent of the population, but the Hispanic population is the majority group in all but one of those areas. The Asian population is the largest group in Honolulu.
In the nation as a whole, the Census Bureau projects that non-Hispanic white residents will make up only 50 percent of the nation's residents by 2050. Non-Hispanic white residents now make up about 67 percent of the nation's population. The coming shift is primarily the result of the rapid Hispanic population growth.
Four states -- California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas -- already have groups other than non-Hispanic whites as the population leaders statewide. The Hispanic population is again the key factor in all but Hawaii, where Asians are the top group.
In the Memphis area, the white total was listed as 657,481, or 52.1 percent, in the 2005 estimates. However, the estimates show that 35,246 of the white residents were Hispanics. Under Census Bureau classifications, Hispanics can be of any race and most Hispanics report themselves as white.
Subtracting those who are Hispanic gives the figure of 622,235 for non-Hispanic whites.
Pol said when the Memphis area does become more than 50 percent African-American, it may be at least a decade, and perhaps two or more decades, before another large metropolitan area reaches the same distinction. However, Pol said a few smaller metro areas may have already reached that point or are almost there.
The five-county Jackson, Miss., metro area is nearing having African-Americans as the largest group, for example. But with a 2005 population estimate of 522,580, the Jackson area is not yet considered among the nation's large metro areas.
Rick Schneider, geography instructor at Northwest Mississippi Community College at DeSoto Center in Southaven, said he believes employment opportunities and housing availability are among factors that are shaping the demographics of the Memphis metro area.
"When you look at job growth in Memphis, my reaction tells me, from looking down on Shelby Drive and State Line Road, etc., and seeing those warehouses growing up like mushrooms, that the opportunities are in service industries," Schneider said.
-- Jimmie Covington: (662) 996-1406
BY THE NUMBERS
Estimates from 2003 show the Memphis area ranked fifth in the percentage of African-American population among the nation's 361 metro areas. The four with higher percentages (all smaller markets) were:
Albany, Ga., 49.2 percent
Sumter, S.C., 48.9 percent
Pine Bluff, Ark., 46.4 percent
Jackson, Miss., 46.1 percent