Melting Pot Cities and Suburbs: Racial and Ethnic Change in Metro America in the 2000s

Old images of race and place in America are changing rapidly. Nowhere are these shifts more apparent than in major U.S. cities and their suburbs. An analysis of data from the 1990, 2000, and 2010 decennial censuses reveals that:

Hispanics now outnumber blacks and represent the largest minority group in major American cities. The Hispanic share of population rose in primary cities of the largest 100 metropolitan areas from 2000 to 2010.  Across all cities in 2010, 41 percent of residents were white, 26 percent were Hispanic, and 22 percent were black.


Well over half of America’s cities are now majority non-white. Primary cities in 58 metropolitan areas were “majority minority” in 2010, up from 43 in 2000. Cities lost only about half as many whites in the 2000s as in the 1990s, but “black flight” from cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Detroit accelerated in the 2000s.

Minorities represent 35 percent of suburban residents, similar to their share of overall U.S. population. Among the 100 largest metro areas, 36 feature “melting pot” suburbs where at least 35 percent of residents are non-white. The suburbs of Houston, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. became majority minority in the 2000s.

More than half of all minority groups in large metro areas, including blacks, now reside in the suburbs. The share of blacks in large metro areas living in suburbs rose from 37 percent in 1990, to 44 percent in 2000, to 51 percent in 2010. Higher shares of whites (78 percent), Asians (62 percent), and Hispanics (59 percent) in large metro areas live in suburbs.


Fast-growing exurban areas remain mostly white and depended overwhelmingly on whites for growth in the 2000s.  Whites accounted for 73 percent of population growth in outlying exurban counties in the 2000s, well more than their 8 percent contribution to national population growth over the same period.

Substantial racial and ethnic changes in the populations of both cities and suburbs in metropolitan America challenge leaders at all levels to understand and keep pace with the continuing social, economic, and political transformation of these places.