So just what happened to Chicago’s African-American population in the last decade?

Thanks to census breakdowns released Tuesday, we now know that it declined a stunning 17% to 887,000. That’s a reduction of one in six between 2000 and 2010.

Figuring out where those people went — and why — ought to prompt more than a little heavy pondering as the demographers begin to pore over the data.

It’s clear that much of the black population shift went west and south, into suburban Cook County and communities in Will, DuPage, Kane and other growing counties.

Figures released from the U.S. Census Bureau and crunched by the capable Aaron Renn at Urbanophile indicate that, while the city lost 178,000 black residents, Cook County as a whole lost just 118,000. That accounts for about a third of the city’s loss.

The five collar counties, plus nearby Kendall County, collectively gained about 55,000 African-American residents, led by Will with 23,234 and DuPage with 14,746. That accounts for about half of what’s left, leaving the metropolitan area overall with a decline in the African-American population of about 60,000.

So where did they go?

In Illinois as a whole, African-American population dropped about 10,000, perhaps meaning that some of those folks leaving Chicago moved Downstate. Some Downstate counties indeed added a pretty good number of blacks, e.g., Winnebago (Rockford), up 6,791; Sangamon (Springfield), up 5,098, and Champaign, up 4,901.

But without out migration, the black population should have increased statewide and in metropolitan Chicago through natural growth, as births exceed deaths.

The appearance is that Chicago and Illinois blacks have begun to move out of state, to the South and other regions, consistent with trends that have begun to catch demographers’ eyes all over the country.

That, folks, is not good. Though I’m sure a few racists out there will applaud the reduction in Chicago’s black population — they all live in public housing and are unemployed, don’t you know? — consider this:

People who actually pick up and move are motivated. And it may be that a high percentage of those doing the moving aren’t public wards but talented, skilled folks in search of a better life — the kind of folks any sane community wants.
There’s a lot, lot more to be researched and discussed on this matter. For instance, is Chicago becoming rich people’s country, unavailable and unaffordable to most of the population?

I don’t know the answer now. I do know this: Any time a sixth of a population ups and flees a city in just 10 years, it’s not good news.

Read more by Greg Hinz