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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

The End of 'White Flight?'

Year after year, decade after decade, New York City was home to a rapidly changing and increasingly diverse population. Whites were seen as fleeing the five boroughs, while blacks, Hispanics and immigrants replaced them. At the same time, the median incomeof city family was barely growing and often declining. Now according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s huge 2006 American Community Survey, as well as the census’ own estimates, most of these trends seem to have ended. There even are signs that they may have been reversed:

Some highlights:

* The African American population is declining. The proportion of non-Hispanic African Americans dropped from 24.5 percent of the city’s population in 2000 to 23.7 percent in 2006. The number declined from 1,962,154 to 1,947,328.

* Hispanic growth has almost ceased. The proportion of Hispanics in New York barely grew from 27.0 percent in 2000 to 27.6 percent in 2006. In the last year for which estimates are available, the Hispanic population in the entire city increased by only 911people.

* The non-Hispanic white population is no longer declining. The proportion of Non-Hispanic whites declined from 51.9 percent of the population in 1980 to 35.0 percent in 2000 -- a drop of about 17 percent. From 2000 to 2006, the proportion dropped by only 0.2 percent.

* The increase in the number of foreign-born New Yorkers has slowed from a stream to a trickle. After rising from 18.2 percent of the population in 1970 to 35.9 percent in 2000, the percent of foreign-born grew only an additional 1.1 percent from 2000 to 2006.

. The Asian population continues to grow at a rapid pace. The proportion of Asians in New York City grew from about 19.6 percent to 23.3 percent and increased by over 350,000 in six years. This is one trend that continues.

* There remains little growth in income. In constant 2006 dollars, the median income of a New York City family was $53,105 in 1970. Since then, it has gone up and down a bit and in 2006 was $51,830. During the past 36 years, there has very little net change in median family income in New York City.

Reversing the Trends

The reversal of many long-standing demographics trend is particularly pronounced in Manhattan, as Table 1 shows. The proportion of foreign born, Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks all declined in the borough, while the percentage of non-Hispanic whites increased. But Manhattan differed from the rest of the city when it came to income. Rather than remaining stagnant, median family income there soared from about $61,000 in 2000 to $71,000 six years later.

The trends embody a shift in attitudes about the city. In the 1970s and 1980s, many middle-class people and whites left New York City, and even Manhattan was considered a “difficult” place to live. Now New York City -– particularly Manhattan -- is becoming a sought after venue, at least for those who can afford it.

For instance, in 2000 the median house value for all owner-occupied housing in Manhattan was $423,000. By 2006 it had risen to $787,000, an increase of 86 percent. In the city as a whole, the median value of homes occupied by their owners climbed from $259,000 in 2000 to $496,000 in 2006, an increase of 91 percent.

The increases in income and the declines in the percentage of foreign-born, black and Hispanic New Yorkers, particularly in Manhattan, seem to indicate that the people who have come to the city recently are more affluent than those who left or decided not to not come at all. More analysis will elucidate this.

The real question is whether the trends that shaped New York City for much of the latter half of the 20th century historic will reemerge, whether the trends will substantially reverse or whether the city will experience little change. In Manhattan the trends already have reversed, with the borough becoming increasingly white and affluent. The rest of the city could follow. This already seems to be the case in some “Manhattanesque” neighborhoods, such as Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg and Astoria.

On the other hand, the recent changes may simply be the result of the recent boom in finance and real estate. If that boom ends, then the demographic change of the first years of the 21st century could simply represent a blip in the continued long-term trends. Or some other trend or trends may emerge.

Only the future will reveal the answer. But one thing is certain; the demographic and population changes in New York City will likely be both unexpected and fascinating.

Andrew A. Beveridge has taught sociology at Queens College since 1981, done demographic analyses for the New York Times since 1993, and been in charge of Gotham Gazette's demographics topic page since 2000. The opinions expressed are his alone.

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