ATLANTA—Where Blacks and whites live in relation to each other in metro Atlanta’s inner 10 counties has changed dramatically during the last 50 years, according to new research by economists at Georgia State University. Population growth and landmark federal policy precipitated substantial changes in Black residential patterns — particularly in the last 20 years — in a metro region that had been deeply segregated by race.
Prior to their study, Lakshmi Pandey, a senior research associate for the university’s Fiscal Research Center and Center for State and Local Finance, and Professor David Sjoquist had developed a series of maps showing where Blacks and whites lived in the 10-county area, known as the Atlanta Regional Commission planning area, at 10-year census intervals beginning in 1940. In 1970, just two years after passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, they noticed dots depicting Black households were significantly less concentrated in the urban core. From 1940 to 2020, the population of the region changed dramatically, both in numbers and racial composition. Between 1970 and 2020, the region experienced a significant change in racial residential representation.
“The changes in the geographic patterns of the dots across the maps over time implied a remarkable change in racial residential patterns over this period,” Sjoquist said. “We decided to do a deeper study of the area’s population growth, residential patterns by race and potential causes.”
Black residents were largely concentrated in a few in town Atlanta neighborhoods east and west of the Atlanta Central Business District (CBD) in 1970. Black families and individuals began expanding into south Fulton, southeast DeKalb and northern Clayton counties over the next two decades. By 2000, the Black population had expanded into other areas of the region, particularly in the north, and by 2020 substantial numbers of Blacks could be found throughout the entire region.
“When Blacks began locating in white neighborhoods, many whites moved out, many outside the I-285 perimeter,” Pandey said. “However, whites recently have increased their share in many census tracts that were predominately Black in 1970. Although there were no large increases of white residents in any of these tracts, their presence in many areas of Atlanta is significant in the last decade compared to trends prior to 2010.”
The immigration of Asians to the U.S., and therefore, Atlanta, was restricted until passage of the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act. With “other races” comprising just 0.2 percent of the total population in 1970, the share of the region’s Asian population rose to 7.18 percent in 2020.
Pandey and Sjoquist also explored four factors that might explain the observed changes in where Atlantans live — Black population density, Black living preferences, white avoidance and income differences — with mixed results.
“While our findings offer encouraging evidence of a positive change in racial residential segregation and the underlying dynamics,” Sjoquist said, “a positive conclusion must be tempered by the fact that racial residential segregation is still high, particularly in Fulton and DeKalb, and that in the past decade the white population in the 10-county region decreased.”
For a copy of the Center for State & Local Finance working paper, “An Exploration of Racial Residential Segregation Trends in Atlanta: 1970–2020,” go to https://cslf.gsu.edu/files/2022/04/cslf2201-4.pdf.
Senior Research Associate
Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Center for State and Local Finance
Lakshmi Pandey, a senior research associate with the Fiscal Research Center and Center for State and Local Finance, specializes in working with administrative data and also provides analytical and technical support on research projects such as welfare-to-work, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and unemployment insurance for U.S. Department of Agriculture, census data analysis, geographical information systems, incorporation and cityhood studies, and many others.
Dept. of Economics, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies
David Sjoquist’s areas of expertise are state and local taxation and urban and regional economics. A specialist in the field of public finance, he has an extensive interest in urban economics, especially local economic development, central city poverty and education policy. He has published extensively on topics such as analysis of public policies, teenage employment, capital maintenance expenditures, local government fiscal conditions and the urban underclass. His current research interests include property taxation, school financing, and local sales and income taxes.
His research has been funded by the Ford Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Fannie Mae Foundation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and his work has been published in the American Economic Review, Journal of Public Economics, National Tax Journal, and Review of Economics and Statistics, among others.