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Indianapolis in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000

November 1, 2003

Executive Summary

Census 2000 confirms that Indianapolis lies at the heart of an economically prosperous region.

On several indicators of economic well-being, Indianapolis compares favorably to other large cities in the U.S. Its unemployment rate is below the national average, and a high proportion of its adults participate in the labor force. The city enjoys a balanced mix of households by income. Poverty rates in the city are low, homeownership rates are high, and renting remains relatively affordable. The results from Census 2000 suggest that during the 1990s, Indianapolis 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 Indianapolis region. In particular, neighborhoods around the city’s core, which contain large shares of the region’s minorities and elderly, suffered steep population declines over the decade while outer neighborhoods and suburbs boomed. If not for large increases in Latin American immigration to Indianapolis during the 1990s, population loss would have been more widespread. The city ranks close to national averages in college degree attainment, but lower education levels among minorities—particularly African Americans—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 Indianapolis enjoyed over the decade.

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

  • Indianapolis is growing, but decentralizing. Indianapolis’s population grew considerably (6.9 percent) in the 1990s, after much slower growth in the 1980s. This growth was not distributed evenly across this geographically-large city, however. 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 boomed by 27 percent in the 1990s—the fastest suburban growth in the Midwest. Still, Indianapolis remains a fairly centralized employment market, with nearly two-thirds of the region’s workers traveling to jobs in the central city.

  • The city’s population is still predominantly white and black, but diversity is on the rise due to immigration. About 90 percent of Indianapolis’s population continues as either white or black, similar to other Midwestern cities like Columbus and Kansas City. The city lost white population in the 1990s, but gained residents of other races and ethnicities. In particular, international immigrants contributed to the city’s changing profile. The number of foreign-born living in Indianapolis more than doubled in the 1990s, and the immigrant population itself is quite diverse; Mexico is the most common country of birth, but half of new arrivals come from countries in Asia, Europe, and Africa. Because more than 60 percent of Indianapolis’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 Indianapolis’s households is changing. With nearly 67,000 members, the 25- to 29-year-old population is Indianapolis’s largest age group. These younger residents help account for the city’s relatively small household size, and the significant degree of household turnover in neighborhoods around the downtown and neighborhoods bordering the suburbs. At the same time, younger residents of the region are selecting the suburbs in greater numbers—7,000 fewer married couples with children live in the city now than in 1990, but 20,000 more live in the suburbs. Childless married couples, while still a large share of the city’s households, also declined over the decade, as the number of single-parent families rose. Attracting younger couples and families to the city in the current decade could be critical for maintaining the social and economic vitality of neighborhoods that lost population in the 1990s.

  • High levels of work contribute to the economic success of most Indianapolis residents. Households in each part of the income scale 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 Indianapolis 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 Indianapolis significantly lag whites on educational attainment. Poverty rates among Hispanics and blacks are relatively low, but most still earn less than a “middle-class” income.

  • Indianapolis is a “homeowner city,” but some groups lost ground in the 1990s. Among the 23 Living Cities, Indianapolis has the third highest homeownership rate, which rose to 59 percent in 2000. The homeownership gap between whites and minority groups widened in the 1990s, however. Black homeownership in Indianapolis increased over the decade, but much more slowly than for whites. Meanwhile, new immigration from abroad translated into falling homeownership rates for Asians and Hispanics. Rents in Indianapolis 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 renters with a chance to save money for one of the many homes within the city’s large single-family housing stock.

By presenting the indicators on the following pages, Indianapolis in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 seeks to give readers a better sense of where Indianapolis and its residents stand in relation to their peers, and how the 1990s shaped the city, its neighborhoods, and the entire Indianapolis 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 Indianapolis should take in the coming decade.

Indianapolis Data Book Series 1

Indianapolis Data Book Series 2