Chicago Population Slips To 1920 Levels

Chicago’s population is back down to levels not seen since the days of Al Capone and Elliot Ness:

CHICAGO—A larger-than-expected exodus over the past 10 years reduced the population of Chicago to a level not seen in nearly a century.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday that during the decade ended in 2010, Chicago’s population fell 6.9% to 2,695,598 people, fewer than the 2.7 million reported back in 1920.

After peaking at 3.62 million people in 1950, Chicago underwent a half century of decline that ended only when the 1990s boom years produced a small gain in the 2000 count. At that time, the city loudly celebrated its comeback.

But the recent recession accelerated a migration both to the metropolitan area’s farthest suburbs and to the Southern U.S. Chicago nonetheless is expected to remain the nation’s third-largest city, behind New York and Los Angeles and just ahead of Houston, for which final census numbers aren’t in yet.

The exodus took a big chunk out of the city’s black population in particular, shrinking it to 887,608 from 1,065,009, according to William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.

“The black decline is really powering the city loss,” Mr. Frey said, calling it “part of the great reverse migration to the South.”

Blacks remain the most-populous race in Chicago, Mr. Frey said, while the number of whites fell during the decade by about 52,000 to just under 855,000 and Hispanics’ ranks rose by about 25,000 to just below 780,000.

To a large degree, this seems to be a reflection of the overall regional migration from North to South that we’ve seen for decades, as well as the fact that people spent much of the 2000s leaving big cities for suburbia. Whether that trend will reverse itself remains to be seen.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    As I pointed out in my post on this subject of a few days ago, I suspect that this shift in population is going to make some blue states redder and some red states bluer.

  2. jwest says:

    Not to worry.

    Chicago will still post election results commensurate with their 1950s peak of population. It’s just the Chicago way.

  3. mantis says:

    Chicago will still post election results commensurate with their 1950s peak of population. It’s just the Chicago way.

    Really? Why don’t you show us proof of that from recent elections? Or are you, as usual, just full of shit?

  4. jwest says:


    I know we disagree on some of the fine points in politics, but I care about you as a person.

    Is it healthy for you to go into the weekend so depressed, angry and humorless? Perhaps there are others at OTB that could form a support group with you to vent some of that hostility. Try going outdoors for a walk. If you happen upon people who are laughing, living rich full lives, don’t automatically assume they’re conservatives and hate them.

    Just remember you’re not alone. There are plenty of miserable liberals out there you could bond with.

  5. mantis says:

    So, no proof then? Didn’t think so.