Columbus in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000

November 1, 2003

Executive Summary

Census 2000 reveals that amid broad economic gains in the Columbus region, important challenges face the city and its residents.

On several indicators of economic well-being, Columbus compares favorably to other large cities in the U.S. Its unemployment rate is below the national average, and a very high proportion of its adults participate in the labor force. The city enjoys a balanced mix of households by income, and its workforce is employed in a diverse set of industries. Poverty rates in the city are low, nearly all children live in families where one or more parents work, and renting remains relatively affordable. The results from Census 2000 suggest that during the 1990s, Columbus was an economically successful place on the whole.

At the same time, those results also point to emerging social and economic disparities by race and place within the Columbus region. In particular, neighborhoods around the city’s core, which contain large shares of the region’s minorities, suffered steep population declines over the decade while outer neighborhoods and suburbs boomed. The city ranks above national averages in the percentage of adults with college degrees and high school diplomas, but lower education levels among African Americans and Hispanics translate into lower incomes, and higher poverty, in neighborhoods around the downtown. Many minority groups likewise failed to share in the overall increase in homeownership that Columbus enjoyed over the decade.

Along these lines and others, then, Columbus in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 concludes that:

  • Columbus is growing, but decentralizing. Columbus’s population grew considerably in both the 1980s and 1990s. A portion of the city’s growth is attributable to its annexation of previously suburban communities. As such, population increases in the last decade were not distributed evenly across the city. Rather, neighborhoods surrounding the downtown lost considerable population, while those in the outer reaches of the city grew by 10 percent or more. Elsewhere in the metro area, population grew by 16 percent in the 1990s. Columbus remains a fairly centralized employment market, with well over half of the region’s workers traveling to jobs in the central city. Nevertheless, reverse commuting is on the rise, and today nearly four in five city residents drive alone to work.

  • The city’s population is still predominantly white and black, but diversity is on the rise. About 90 percent of Columbus’s population continues as either white or black, similar to other Midwestern cities like Indianapolis and Kansas City. However, the number of foreign-born living in Columbus more than doubled in the 1990s thanks to increased immigration and an increasingly international university student body. The city’s foreign-born population itself is quite diverse; India is the most common country of birth, but nearly half come from countries in Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Because nearly two-thirds of Columbus’s foreign-born arrived in the U.S. in the last ten years, the city may face unique challenges in connecting these newcomers to the economic, political, and educational mainstream.

  • The profile of Columbus’s households is changing. Nearly 150,000 people in their twenties make up Columbus’s largest age group, surpassing people in their thirties, the city’s next largest age group, by 27,000 members. These younger residents, many of whom are university students, help account for the city’s smaller-than-average household size and the significant proportion of the population new to the city within the last five years. At the same time, younger residents of the region are selecting the suburbs in greater numbers—the number of married couples in the city stagnated in the 1990s, but grew by 22,000 in the suburbs. Meanwhile, the number of single-parent families in both the central city and suburbs grew considerably. Attracting and retaining younger couples and families in the current decade could be critical for maintaining the social and economic vitality of city neighborhoods that lost population in the 1990s.

  • High levels of work contribute to the economic success of most Columbus residents. Households in each part of the income distribution increased in number during the 1990s. Because higher-income households grew fastest, the city’s median household income increased, and its poverty rate—already low by large-city standards—declined. The improving economic profile of city residents owes to several factors. While unemployment has risen since Census 2000 was conducted, the rate in Columbus remains below the national average, and well below that for large cities. Likewise, the city’s workers are employed in a diverse set of industries that mirror the nation’s employment profile. At the same time, racial differences undercut these trends somewhat. As elsewhere, blacks in Columbus significantly lag Asians and whites on educational attainment. Poverty rates among Hispanics and blacks are below national averages, but most minority households still earn less than a “middle-class” income.

  • Columbus’s race/ethnic groups diverged on homeownership in the 1990s. The overall homeownership rate in Columbus is higher than that in the average Living City, and increased fairly significantly in the 1990s. The gap between whites and minority groups widened, however. Black homeownership in Columbus increased over the decade, but much more slowly than for whites. Meanwhile, new immigration from abroad seems to have translated into falling homeownership rates for Asians and Hispanics. Rents in Columbus remain relatively affordable, however, and a relatively low share of the city’s renters face housing cost burdens. While this affordability may dissuade some renters from moving into homeownership, it may also present them with a chance to save money for the abundant ownership opportunities that exist within the city’s large single-family housing stock.

By presenting the indicators on the following pages, Columbus in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 seeks to give readers a better sense of where Columbus and its residents stand in relation to their peers, and how the 1990s shaped the city, its neighborhoods, and the entire Columbus region. Living Cities and the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy hope that this information will prompt a fruitful dialogue among city and community leaders about the direction Columbus should take in the coming decade.

Columbus Data Book Series 1

Columbus Data Book Series 2