Oakland in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000

November 1, 2003

Executive Summary

Census 2000 confirms that while many Oakland residents benefited from the strong Bay Area economy of the 1990s, a growing number may be falling farther behind.

Oakland’s population grew by 7 percent in the 1990s, building on its considerable growth in the 1980s. This growth was almost entirely attributable to an increase in the city’s Latino and Asian populations, particularly immigrants from Mexico, China, and Vietnam. The foreign-born now account for over one-quarter of Oakland’s population, and help account for the city’s youthful profile. Oakland’s population gains, however, occurred in the midst of continued decentralization. Suburban Alameda and Contra Costa counties grew nearly twice as fast as Oakland in the 1990s, and only one-fifth of the region’s workers commute to jobs in the cities of Alameda, Berkeley, or Oakland.

While Oakland’s economic profile improved in the 1990s, Census 2000 also reveals troubling trends for some of the city’s workers. Among the 23 Living Cities, Oakland had the seventh-fastest growth in household incomes, and the eighth-highest share of college graduates in 2000. Yet gaps between whites and minorities—particularly Latinos—on educational attainment leave many of the city’s families with only modest incomes. A high proportion of those families face increasing difficulties paying rent, and the recent economic downturn and resulting unemployment have complicated the picture for the city’s lower-income workers.

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

  • Oakland’s population increased during the 1990s, but the region continues to decentralize. Oakland added 27,000 residents during the 1990s, a 7 percent increase. Most of the city’s neighborhoods added residents over the decade. At the same time, the growth of Oakland’s suburbs continued apace. Alameda and Contra Costa counties grew twice as fast overall as the central city. Meanwhile, as people moved farther out in the region, so did jobs. About half of all commutes in the region begin and end in the suburbs, and a smaller proportion of Oakland residents are employed in the central city than in any other Living City.

  • Increasing immigration is adding to Oakland’s racial and ethnic diversity. The share of Oakland residents who are of Hispanic origin increased from 14 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2000. Driving this trend was a 33,000-person increase in Oakland’s foreign-born population during the decade, without which the city would have lost population. Oakland’s racial and ethnic makeup is now one of the most diverse in the U.S., with African Americans, Latinos, whites, and Asians all representing significant shares of the population. This diversity extends beyond the city, moreover. Oakland’s suburbs added more than twice as many foreign-born residents as the city in the 1990s. Asians and Latinos, in particular, are well-represented in many of the areas’ suburban jurisdictions.

  • Oakland residents are young and mobile. Baby Boomers aged 35 to 54 are by far the nation’s largest age cohorts, but people in their late 20s and early 30s make up Oakland’s largest age groups. Thanks to this age tilt, few of the cities’ households contain married couples; many consist of people living alone or with nonrelatives. In addition to attracting young people from abroad, Oakland was a magnet for domestic migrants in the U.S. during the 1990s. More than a quarter of the city’s residents lived in a different place five years ago, and the city gained 25- to 34-year-olds even as their numbers declined nationwide. Still, all types of households—especially married couples with children—chose the area’s suburbs over the city by wide margins in the 1990s.

  • Many Oakland workers possess college degrees, but a growing educational divide separates the city’s households by race and income. Among the 100 largest cities, Oakland ranks near the top quarter in the share of adults who hold at least a bachelor’s degree. The city’s large gain in households with earnings in the top quintile nationwide reflects the increasing proportion of its population with college degrees. Meanwhile, however, the share of Oakland adults who have graduated from high school stagnated between 1990 and 2000—one of only a few cities in which this occurred. In particular, racial and ethnic minorities lag far behind their white counterparts in educational attainment. These achievement gaps give rise to large income differences—African American households in Oakland earn $25,000 less on average than white households. As the city’s unemployment rate topped 10 percent in 2002, though, it is likely that groups across the racial and ethnic spectrum have lost ground since Census 2000.

  • Homeownership stagnated in Oakland, while renters faced increasing cost burdens. Despite a large increase in median household income in the 1990s, the homeownership rate in Oakland fell slightly over the decade. Only 41 percent of the city’s households are owners, ranking Oakland 87th among the 100 largest cities. African Americans made modest progress in this area, but Asians and Latinos lost ground, perhaps owed to the arrival of new East Asian and Latin American immigrants during the decade. While rents in the city changed little between 1990 and 2000, many renters—especially those with moderate incomes—struggled to meet their housing costs. These housing burdens not only make it difficult for lower-income families to pay for the necessities of life, but also impede their ability to save for homeownership or other assets.

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

Oakland Data Book Series 1

Oakland Data Book Series 2