Posted on September 1, 2014

A Lot of Places Resemble Ferguson, Statistically

Alan Flippen, New York Times, August 29, 2014

Ferguson, Mo., stands out for the level of racial turbulence it has experienced this month. But as an economically lagging community that has undergone rapid demographic change in the last couple of decades, it’s not unusual at all.

An analysis performed for The Upshot by Andrew Beveridge, a sociology professor at Queens College, shows that there are 117 communities of 5,000 or more people in the United States that, like Ferguson, were over 50 percent white in 1990 and shifted to over 50 percent black in 2010.

Not all of them have the troubled racial history of Ferguson or its demographic mismatch between the population and the police, but they do resemble Ferguson in two ways: Most are suburban, and most are poorer than their overall metro area.

If you rank these communities according to the degree of change they have undergone, Ferguson comes out somewhere in the middle. It ranks 51st out of 117 in terms of the decline in the percentage of its population that is white (which was 73 percent in 1990, but 29 percent in 2010), and 38th if ranked by the growth in its black population (25 percent in 1990, 67 percent in 2010).

And by either measure, every community that has experienced more change than Ferguson is also a suburb. {snip}

Many other metro areas in the East, Midwest and South also have suburban areas on this list. They include Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Philadelphia and Washington. But in the Rocky Mountains and on the Pacific coast, this phenomenon is unknown.


In all, 82, or 70 percent, of the 117 communities on the list are considered suburban by the Census Bureau–that is, they are within a Metropolitan Statistical Area but are not the central city of such an area. Seven central cities are also on the list, all in the South (Baton Rouge, at 229,493 population, is the largest of these); the remaining 28 are rural areas or nonmetropolitan towns, also all in the South.