Census Measures Ethnic Shifts

Census measures ethnic shifts

By Darnell Little
Chicago Tribune staff reporter
August 9, 2007

The Latino population in the Chicago area and throughout Illinois continues to soar, while growing numbers of whites are leaving Cook County for outer suburban counties such as Will, McHenry and Kendall Counties, according to new population estimates released by the Census Bureau today.

DuPage County's white population dropped by nearly 5 percent between 2000 and 2006, but experts say the decline could be explained by empty nesters syndrome, the departure of college-age children that causes the average size of households to shrink.

The data show a continuation of decade-long trends of Latinos increasing their presence throughout the state while more whites move farther away from the Chicago region. The black population also continues its steady population growth in both the inner and outer suburbs.

Cook County's Latino population grew by nearly 130,000 from 2000 to 2006, a 12 percent increase. In the same period, the number of Latinos in Will County more than doubled to top 90,000. Kane and Lake Counties saw their Latino populations grow by more than 40 percent, and McHenry County's Latino population grew by nearly 67 percent. Every county in Illinois except one saw a net gain in this group since 2000.

Latino growth in Cook County has been driven not by migration but natural growth caused by births within the population far outpacing deaths, said Kenneth M. Johnson, a sociology professor at Loyola University.

“From 2000 to 2005, there are about 150,000 Hispanic births in Cook County and only about 10,000 or 12,000 deaths,” Johnson said. “For the rest of the region, I think we're seeing a combination of natural increase and migration, some of which is immigration.”

Many demographers think that Latinos who came to Chicago when they were younger look to suburban areas as they start families, while growing numbers of Latino immigrants bypass the city altogether to look for better job opportunities, schools and housing outside of Chicago.

Latino population growth is spread across the entire state, but the fastest growing counties in Illinois are being fueled by whites, said Ruth Anne Tobias, a research associate at the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University.

“Kendall, Will and DeKalb Counties are among the fastest growing counties in the nation,” Tobias said. “And while the Hispanic population is growing in those places, most of the growth is from more whites moving in.”

Will County's white population increased by 83,000 from 2000 to 2006, the largest increase of whites in the state. The white population in Kendall County grew by more than 20,000, a 41 percent increase. Kane and McHenry Counties both saw increases of more than 30,000.

Meanwhile, Cook County's white population dropped by more than 200,000 people since 2000, an 8 percent decrease. Johnson thinks that one of the biggest appeals of the outer suburbs is the opportunity to get a bigger house for an equivalent amount of money.

“As you get to the outer suburbs, normally the house prices per square foot tend to be lower, so you can buy more house,” Johnson said.

Decades ago, affordable housing attracted many families to DuPage County, and the aging of those families is cited as the likely reason for the decline in the county's white population.

“A good portion of DuPage County was settled in the 1960s and '70s,” said Siim Soot, former director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Young families moved in. Housing was very affordable at that time. The families grew, and we're witnessing the departure of college-age children from the household. I'd be willing to bet the number of households is increasing but the household size is declining.”

Cook County also lost nearly 33,000 blacks, a 2 percent drop between 2000 and 2006, though it still had the largest black population in the country in 2006. Many demographers think, however, that nearly all of that loss comes from Chicago and that the black population in suburban Cook County actually is increasing.

DuPage County's black population increased by 44 percent, or 12,000 people, but the biggest numerical gainer for in its black population was Will County, which added more than 17,000, a 33 percent increase.

Will County is a natural extension of the large black community in southern Cook County, Soot said. “Traditionally, we've had much more movement of the black population southward than we've had north or west. And that southern movement initially moved from the city into the southern suburbs, and now it's extending into Will County.”