Smithsonian Museum of African American History. The museum opens as DC's black residents make the smallest share of the population in decades. Image by Mark Andre licensed under Creative Commons.

Despite once making up over 70% of the city’s population, black residents are forming a smaller and smaller percentage of Washington DC’s population. But even with this being true, DC's black population is actually growing.

As of 2015, DC was, for the first time in decades, no longer a majority-black city. The District has had a long divide between affluent white residents in the western part of the city and less affluent black residents in the east. As the city grows, there is increasing concern that the prosperity of revitalization is not benefiting the black community well enough.

In fact, this 2015 Washington Post survey indicated that for the first time ever, a majority of black residents do not feel that gentrification in DC is a good thing. None of this is particularly shocking news to anyone who has spent much time in DC, but it illustrates the ongoing struggles the District faces in making growth equitable for everyone.

What may surprise many people is that the black population has been increasing in the District, in terms of total residents, since 2010. In other words, the black population’s proportion of the city is shrinking, but this is mainly because other races that are coming into the city are growing at a much faster rate: the black-only population increased by 7,399 since 2010, while the white-only population increased by 37,950 by 15,973 since 2010, while the white-only population increased by 45,865 by 13,707 since 2010, while the white-only population increased by 42,717.

The data are from the U.S. Census's 2010 survey and the subsequent American Community Surveys US Census estimates.

Image by the author.

To say exactly what this means for DC would be largely speculative, but these data do indicate that black residents are moving into the District at a faster rate than they are moving out.

One important lingering question is how many of the city’s native residents are staying. As a blog from Shani O. Hilton brilliantly illustrates, DC has been an attractive destination for black transplants. Consequently, it is difficult to assess from Census data alone whether this growth in black population is largely offsetting native black residents leaving.

On the other hand, Columbia Professor Lance Freeman, who has done a great deal of research on the effects of gentrification, summarizes the process this way: gentrification does not tend to drive out long-time residents, but it does not tend to alleviate poverty for them, either.

Though this is good news for the diversity of DC, the big question remains: how do we provide the city's poorest neighborhoods— many of which are predominantly black— with better opportunities?

 

Correction: The table and data above previously used US Census data from the American Community Survey (ACS), rather than Annual Estimates. Data from a multi-year period influence the ACS five-year estimate, rather than just one year, which is not an accurate basis of comparison for subject.

Correction 2: The author accidentally included some other erroneous data in his table and numbers. The table has since been replaced.

Stephen Hudson resides in Southwest DC — the fourth quadrant he has lived in. He works for a government relations firm and has previous experience with transportation policy at a trade association. His professional interests include transportation and infrastructure, foreign languages, and comparative international politics. The views expressed are his own.