The district’s white population declined for the first time in two decades last year

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Whites fled the District of Columbia in disproportionate numbers during the pandemic’s first year, reversing a nearly two-decade trajectory in which the city had steadily added white residents, according to an analysis of new data from the Census Bureau.

In the four years leading up to the pandemic, the city had added non-Hispanic white residents at the rate of about 4,000 to 5,000 per year. But between July 2020 and July 2021, it lost 10,285 people from that group, according to the agency’s annual population estimates for the nation, states and provinces by age, gender, race and Hispanic ancestry, released Thursday.

Many of the region’s near suburbs are also losing white residents at a much faster rate than before, including Montgomery County, Maryland, as well as Fairfax and Arlington counties and the city of Alexandria in Virginia, according to an analysis of estimates by William Frey, a reporter. senior demographer at the Brookings Institution.

Some of the losses, especially among the country’s rapidly aging white population, are due to deaths rather than people moving away, but the change in the district has been too dramatic to be explained by natural decline alone, Frey said.

“These numbers make it clear that during the 2020-2021 pandemic year there was significant ‘white flight’ from DC and the inland regions (as well as nationally from urban cores),’ Frey said. ‘Some suburban counties were recipients of white gains. But this makes it clear, both in DC and in the US, that the white movement had a lot to do with city losses.”

The district’s black population, which had been declining in recent years, also declined rapidly between 2020 and 2021. The city lost 6,689 non-Hispanic black residents that year, more than three and a half times as many as the year before. And predominantly Black Prince George’s County, which had also lost black residents, lost 8,552 during the first year of the pandemic, about three times as many as the previous year.

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The first year of the pandemic was an outlier in many ways, with major metropolitan areas across the country losing both blacks and whites at an unusually high rate, although white losses were ubiquitous.

Whites made up half of the district’s decline, although whites only make up about a third of the city’s population.

Across the region, the Washington metro area lost nearly 8,000 non-Hispanic blacks after their population grew steadily over the past four years. It also lost more than 40,000 non-Hispanic whites after previously losing whites at a much slower rate. The population of Latin America, Asia, India and the mixed race remained relatively stable.

The changes come as the country in general becomes more diverse. The 2020 census marked the first time the absolute number of people identifying only white had shrunk since a census began in 1790, and the first time the percentage of whites dipped below 60 percent. The population under 18 is now the majority of people of color.

Many who left the District are young. More than half were between the ages of 15 and 29, while losses in surrounding provinces were more evenly distributed across age groups. Young people who flocked to cities a decade ago after the Great Recession to be close to jobs and weather the housing crisis are now starting families and seeking more space in the suburbs, Frey said, noting that many were leaving larger cities for suburbs. or smaller metropolitan areas.

Urban millennials may therefore already be ready to move, “and the pandemic gave them an extra push,” he said, adding that the district’s plethora of jobs in government, nonprofits and universities made it possible for many workers. to work remotely, making it easier to leave.

Frey warned that the unusually high number of departures may not go ahead. “It may just be a one-off shock that has hit people,” he said, pointing out that the new estimates reflect the peak 12 months after the pandemic lockdowns began and before cities reopened on a large scale.

“It could very well be a blip, but there’s an asterisk,” he said, “We probably won’t see a big wave of people going back to the cities.”

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