UT study finds African-American population decreases as Austin grows

Claire Ricke

Although Austin is nationally ranked as the third fastest expanding major city, a University report found it is the only city with a decreasing African-American population while increasing in total growth.   

The report, conducted by UT’s Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, looked at U.S. Census data from 2000 to 2010, which showed a population increase of 20.4 percent in Austin. The top ten cities on the list had population increases averaging 16.7 percent. Contrasting other cities on the list, Austin has a decreasing African-American population of 5.4 percent, the report showed. African-Americans are the only racial or ethnic group in Austin that are experiencing a decline, according to the report.

Eric Tang, African and African diaspora studies assistant professor, said he believes one of the main causes of the decline to be Austin’s history of segregation. Tang said that directly following segregration was a period of gentrification in the city’s neighborhoods with the officials in 1928 creating the “negro-district,” in East Austin, forcing an estimated 80 percent of the African-American community to move into the new designated area. Tang said the district of neighborhoods became a prime target for gentrification in the 1990s and 2000s.  

“Real estate developers saw it as a so-called ‘frontier’ for Austin’s booming downtown area,” Tang said. “So although segregation and gentrification are not unique to Austin, what is unique is the way in which these two forces converged and intensified in this city, leading to the rapid displacement of African-Americans.” 

City demographer Ryan Robinson said he disagrees with the idea that gentrification is the cause. Along with other factors, Robinson said the main reason for the decline is a marked improvement in the African-American community’s economic standing in the Austin area. 

“They are voluntarily leaving [Austin] as they enter middle class to move to the suburbs for better schooling systems and for more house for the value,” Robinson said. 

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole said the decrease in the African-American population stems from lack of diversity, cultural venues and the challenges of housing affordability. According to Cole, there is an increased demand for housing, but the demand exceeds what is available. Cole, who is the first African-American woman elected to the Austin City Council, said if the city reached out to the African-American community in Austin and surrounding cities, economic opportunities would increase for them.

“[By] working with the African American Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Congress to reach out to nonprofits in other cities, this will raise the awareness of economic opportunities in Austin,” Cole said.