D.C. May Be Losing Status As A Majority-Black City

N.C. Aizenman, Washington Post, May 17, 2007

The District of Columbia’s longtime status as a majority-black city appears to be diminishing, even as Maryland and Virginia continue to experience a dramatic rise in their minority populations, according to census estimates released today.

The 14 percent increase in non-Hispanic white District residents and 6 percent decrease in blacks from 2000 to 2006 are probably the result of the gentrification of once-affordable city neighborhoods, demographers said.

The impact on the city’s racial makeup is noticeable. In 2000, blacks made up 60 percent of the District’s population. By 2006, that figure was 55 percent.

If the trends continue, the city will almost certainly cease to be majority black by 2020, said Robert E. Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. “It will wind up more like a Los Angeles or a New York, with no clear majority.”

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From 2000 to 2006, the number of non-Hispanic black residents in the District declined to 322,000, the number of non-Hispanic whites rose to about 184,000 and the number of Asians increased to 18,000, a 20 percent gain.

“What you see are whites moving into the city because they are able to afford the pricey housing in all these areas that are gentrifying and becoming much more middle and upper-middle class,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. “Meanwhile, the city is becoming more unaffordable to lower-income black families.”

Although the data are too general for definitive conclusions, Frey said it is likely that many black and Hispanic families are moving to Washington suburbs.

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But Lang questions whether the term “minority” will be defined the same way by then. Nearly 2 percent of the population is identified as multiracial, he noted. And that percentage is likely to rise with intermarriage among races and ethnic groups. The notion of what is “white” is also likely to shift as it has since the 1900s, when Southern and Eastern Europeans were not counted as white.

“I don’t think that officially there will ever be a moment where we’re at majority-minority status, because long before you get to that point, the meaning of the term majority will be completely redefined,” he said.

The U.S. Census Bureau also released statistics on age: Two states, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, had the second-highest percentage of people 65 and older, each with 15 percent. Florida remained No. 1 with 17 percent.

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