Declining African-American Numbers Valid

RECEIVED Mon., June 30, 2014

Dear Editor,
    This is a response to a letter to the editor of the Austin Chronicle [“'Cold Sweat' Wrong,” Postmarks, June 20] that questions a UT report that I co-authored on Austin's declining African-American population. The letter states that the figure we use in our report to represent the 2010 African-American population in Austin – 60,760 – is invalid. The letter writer proposes that this number should be higher: 64,406. What follows is an explanation for why 60,760 is the accurate number to use.
    Our report, entitled "Outlier: The Case of Austin's Declining African-American Population," demonstrates that Austin is the only major-growth city to experience a simultaneous decline in its African-American population. Drawing on U.S. Census data from 2000 and 2010, we show that over the course of a decade the African-American population suffered a net loss, going from 64,259 in 2000 to 60,760 in 2010. These figures for African-American population changes between 2000 and 2010 have been published/cited elsewhere, particularly by the city of Austin itself.
    The figure 64,406 presented by the letter writer is sourced from a table that does not specify the "non-Hispanic Black alone" category, but also includes among the African-American count those of Hispanic/Latino origin who in some measure identify as Black. Although adding Hispanics/Latinos who identify as Black to the city's overall African-American numbers is useful for some studies, it does not give us an accurate picture of what's happening to the historic African-American residents in Austin in relation to both their peers in other cities and to other racial groups in Austin (our report is consistent in comparing the "non-Hispanic Black alone" numbers in Austin to those of other major cities in the United States).
    Moreover, such data erases the Hispanic/Latino population as its own racial group in Austin, spreading their numbers out across various categories – White, Black, Asian, etc. This presents a skewed racial picture of Austin, a city with a very sizable Hispanic/Latino population.
    However, even if one were to work with the combined "Black alone with Hispanic included" number of 64,406, as the writer suggests, the core argument of our report would still hold. The Black population (with Hispanics included) in Austin would still show loss, going from 65,956 in 2000 to 64,406 in 2010 (-1,550). In this sense, the letter writer actually proves the point of our report: Even when you add those of Hispanic/Latino origin to the African-American count, the city still shows a net loss of Blacks amid tremendous, unprecedented growth in the general population. Austin would still emerges as the nation's major-growth city outlier when it comes to Black population decline.
    Lastly, the writer points out the slight increase of Austinites who are identifying as multiracial. If one were to add all people who identify as part-Black with any other combination (White, Asian, Native, Other, etc.) to the African-American count in Austin, then one would see an increase in the Black count, going from 69,943 in 2000 to 71,130 in 2010 (+1,187). But multiracial counting is an entirely separate study, and should not be conflated with our report. Again, for the reasons stated above, our study specifically analyzed the "non-Hispanic Black alone" – and did so consistently across different cities to make the comparative point.
    And yet, let's take a moment to speculate on this separate (and perhaps future) study that looks at multiracial Black numbers. The increase of 1,187 is alarmingly low for a city as fast-growing as Austin. To put it in perspective, consider that Austin grew by a whopping 20.4% between 2000 and 2010 (an increase of 133,828). That this rapid growth yielded such a relatively small increase in those who identify as part-Black in combination with any other possible racial or ethnic group is in itself rather startling.
Eric Tang
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