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Last week, the Detroit News caught a small change in the city’s population in new Census Bureau data: In 2014, the city’s white population rose by nearly 8,000 people.
That’s a relatively small number in a city of 680,000, but it’s a significant change from the long-term trend over the lifetime of a majority of residents living in Detroit today. It means that the city’s white population, which has dwindled through decades of suburban flight, is measurably growing for the first time since 1950.
“I was skeptical,” says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, when the Detroit media brought the news to his attention. “We have this long history of white declines in cities. It’s not just the last five years, 10 years, 15 years, it’s been going on in some places for even longer than that, and Detroit is one of them, clearly.”
This modest new pattern is accurate, though: Go back to the 2010 census, and Detroit’s white population has grown by a little more than 14,000 people. In just four years, the white share of the city’s population is up 2.5 percentage points (to, well, 10.2 percent, still the smallest share of any major American city). Then Frey started to look beyond Detroit.
“And I became even more convinced when I looked at some of these other cities,” he says, “that there was something going on.”
Among the 50 largest cities in the U.S., nearly half gained a statistically significant number of whites from 2010-2014 (the change isn’t significant in 21 of these 50 cities). Just 5 lost whites. That’s compared to 35 cities where the white population shrank in the 2000s, and 31 in the 1990s. In Detroit, New Orleans, Washington and Denver, the white share of the population also rose over this same time. […]