Midwestern Black population concentrated in metro areas

In honor of Martin Luther King Day (albeit belatedly), I want to highlight some Census Bureau data about the U.S. Black population. This information comes from a 2010 Census Brief, published in September 2011, entitled “The Black Population: 2010.”

To me, the most noteworthy data in the report shows that Black populations in the North are concentrated in metro areas, especially in Michigan. In some cases, a county has a relatively low percentage of self-reported Black or African-American people, but a metro area within that county has a large percentage. This trend may not be surprising to some people, but I think the numbers are striking.

Apparently, so did the Census Bureau, which noted this trend in the report’s conclusion:

The Black population continued to be concentrated in the South and the proportion increased from 2000 to 2010. Additionally, the Black population that lived outside of the South tended to be more concentrated in metro areas. Other interesting geographic patterns include, for the largest 20 metro areas, the non-Hispanic Black alone population was more likely to live in a largest principal city relative to the non-Hispanic White alone, Hispanic, and other race group populations in 2010. The non-Hispanic Black alone population also experienced the greatest declines in the proportion living in a largest principal city from 2000 to 2010.

As shown by the Bureau’s charts, many Southern counties have large percentages of Black Americans, but in the North the percentages are relatively low.

black or african american as percent of county population

Let’s use Michigan as an example. There, the percentage of Black population for any given county never reaches above 50%. In fact, outside of the Detroit area, it never gets above 25%.

Yet a few pages later, the report includes a fascinating table ranking the places with the highest percentages of Black Americans. According to this table, Detroit’s percentage of Black Americans (including those in “combination”) is 84.3%. And in Flint, Michigan, is 59.5%. The differences between these metro percentages and the percentages for the counties they are located in are huge!

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So what’s this mean for city managers? I don’t have all the answers to that question. But I know one thing: Many counties are facing drastically differing demographics within a relatively compact geographic area. For example, Genesee County, Michigan—where Flint is located—has an estimated population of only about 425,000 and a size of 649.34 sq. miles (the mean size of a county in Michigan is estimated to be 1178.19 sq. miles on Wikipedia), yet Flint is nearly 60% Black, and the county is less than 25%.

To me, this data also shows that, in Michigan at least, there remains a color-line, and we need to remain vigilant about realizing Martin Luther King Jr.’s  dream. For another interesting article on the history and current state of race in Michigan cities see Craig Ruff’s recent article in Dome Magazine.

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