Phoenix in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000

November 1, 2003

Executive Summary

Census 2000 confirms Phoenix’s standing as one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. Along the way it quantifies the city’s continuing emergence as a gateway for immigrants and a destination for young workers and families.

Phoenix’s population grew by more than two-thirds between 1980 and 2000—even faster in the 1990s than in the 1980s. Growth in the past decade was largely attributable to an increase in the city’s Latino population, many of whom are immigrants from Mexico. The foreign-born now make up one-fifth of Phoenix’s population, and help account for the city’s youthful profile. While the city itself grew more slowly than its suburbs during the 1990s, Phoenix retains a significant share of the region’s employment; more than two-thirds of Phoenicians commute to jobs within the city.

The overall economic profile of the Phoenix region is healthy, underpinned by a high level of labor force participation. Household incomes in Phoenix grew in the 1990s, and the distribution of income in the city mirrors that in the nation as a whole. Yet the city’s growing population of Latinos possesses a much lower rate of college degree attainment than other groups, leaving many of these families with only modest incomes. Homeownership in Phoenix exceeds that in any other Living City, but black and Latino families advanced little in this regard in the 1990s.

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

  • The Phoenix region is one of the fastest-growing places in the United States. In both the 1980s and 1990s, the City of Phoenix grew faster than all the other 23 Living Cities, having increased in population by two-thirds over two decades. With the exception of a few neighborhoods in South Phoenix, all parts of the region grew rapidly in the 1990s. Phoenix’s suburbs meanwhile grew even faster than the central city. Even so, the core of the region still retains a high share of employment—three-fourths of Phoenix-area workers are employed in the four central cities (Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe).

  • Racial and ethnic diversity is on the rise in Phoenix due to increasing immigration. The share of Phoenix residents who are of Hispanic origin increased from 20 percent in 1990 to 34 percent in 2000. Driving this trend was a tripling of Phoenix’s foreign-born population during the decade—the largest such rise among the 23 Living Cities. Roughly three out of four Phoenix immigrants hail from Mexico, with smaller numbers from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. Because nearly 60 percent of the city’s foreign-born residents arrived in the country in the last ten years, Phoenix may face unique challenges in connecting these newcomers to the economic, political, and educational mainstream. Only one-fifth of the city’s foreign-born are naturalized U.S. citizens, the second-lowest proportion among the 23 Living Cities.

  • Residents of Phoenix are young and mobile. Baby Boomers aged 35 to 54 are by far the nation’s largest age cohort, but people in their late 20s and early 30s make up Phoenix’s largest age groups. The recent wave of Mexican immigration to Phoenix has affected both age and household patterns: The city contains more young adult males than females, and has the highest proportion of married couples with children among the 23 Living Cities. In addition to attracting young people from abroad, Phoenix was a magnet for domestic migrants in the U.S. during the 1990s. Thirty percent of all residents lived in a different city five years ago, and the city gained a significant number of 25- to 34-year-olds even as their numbers declined nationwide.

  • Educational attainment trends point to the emergence of “two economies” in Phoenix. Although less than a quarter of Phoenix adults possess a bachelor’s degree, college degree attainment improved in the 1990s. By contrast, the proportion of adults with high school diplomas fell between 1990 and 2000—one of only a few cities in which this occurred. This trend reflects not only the scale of immigration to Phoenix, but also the location of more educated workers in other parts of the region. Education statistics by race and ethnicity further suggest that the city is dividing into “two economies”—a high-skill sector in which whites and Asians are disproportionately represented, and a low-wage sector composed primarily of Latinos, only 6 percent of whom hold college degrees.

  • Phoenix’s income profile mirrors that of the nation as a whole, including its differences by race and ethnicity. Households in each part of the income distribution increased in number in Phoenix during the 1990s, and the distribution of households by income is similar to that nationally. Overall, median household income increased moderately over the decade. At the same time, large differences in economic status by race and ethnicity persist. Blacks and Latinos in Phoenix make do with incomes that are on average $16,000 to $18,000 below those for Asians and whites. And in many South Phoenix neighborhoods with high concentrations of black and Latino residents, at least 30 percent of all people live below the poverty line.

  • Phoenix has a high homeownership rate, though progress in the 1990s was uneven. Among the 23 Living Cities, Phoenix now has the highest homeownership rate—more than 60 percent of all households own their homes. Not all groups made progress in this area, however. As whites and Asians made significant gains, homeownership among African Americans in Phoenix fell off slightly in the 1990s, and the rate for Latinos changed little. This widening gap may reflect in part recent immigration to Phoenix, but may also signal the cost burdens facing many city renters. Roughly 72,000 households spend at least 30 percent of income on rent, limiting their opportunities to save for homeownership or other assets.

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

Phoenix Data Book Series 1

Phoenix Data Book Series 2