U.S. Census Bureau estimates suggest that one of every six white people in Macon has left since the year 2000, helping whites to become a minority in Bibb County.
The estimates released last week are the latest and best look at the area’s population before the actual 2010 census numbers are released next spring.
Doug Bachtel, a University of Georgia demographer, said the changes in racial makeup are more tied to social class -- education and skills -- than race. Blacks, whites and others with skills are leaving Macon for suburban areas, he said.
“The people left behind, if they’re lower educational level, lower income, they don’t have the time or the skills to get involved in these self-help groups like the Rotary Club or the Kiwanis,” Bachtel said.
The latest estimates, from 2005-09 of the American Community Survey, suggest Macon lost about 5,700 white residents since the 2000 census. The city’s population overall dropped by about 4,000 people, to an estimated 97,255.
But the decline in numbers of white people in Macon doesn’t suggest those people are moving to unincorporated Bibb County.
Bibb County overall lost about 5,100 white people. Minorities, especially about 4,300 black people, bolstered the figures and gave Bibb County a higher overall population than in the 2000 census. The latest Bibb projection is 155,034 residents.
In the 2000 census, whites -- including white Hispanics -- made up 50.1 percent of Bibb County’s population. In the latest estimates, whites make up 46.5 percent, giving up their majority status. Blacks make up 49.7 percent.
Bachtel said many people of all races, particularly those with skills, are moving to the suburbs.
“The African-Americans who have the education levels and the skill levels, they join that white crowd in (moving) to the suburbs,” he said.
Houston County surged roughly 20,100 people since the 2000 census to an estimated 130,910 people.
Houston County remains firmly majority white, but the majority of the increase in population comes from minorities, including about 7,900 black people.
Houston County’s Hispanic population also jumped by about 1,900, an increase of about 56 percent since 2000.
More than half of Houston County’s overall growth, about 10,700 people, was in Warner Robins.
Growth has been strong in other counties that are acting as suburbs. Monroe County, for example, has increased its population by 14 percent, or about 3,000 people overall, since the 2000 census. Nearly all of that estimated growth is from white people, about 2,600 people.
Jones County grew about 3,600 people, mostly white. Peach County grew about 2,400 people, about half of them white, the estimates show.
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said the Census Bureau estimates aren’t a sign of race-driven “white flight.” Skilled people who can afford new homes want new homes, and most of the developable land is well outside the city limits.
“It’s not really so much white flight as it is people wanting to move into new houses, wherever they are,” Reichert said.
Reichert said the city is becoming more attractive to skilled, upwardly mobile entrepreneurial people who want to live downtown, such as in revitalized parts of the College Hill corridor and downtown.
“That is supposedly going to be a trend that is increasing over the next couple decades,” Reichert said.
Bachtel said many of the city’s newer residents will be people with little education who are “homegrown” or come from rural areas.
“With less skill levels and lower education levels, last hired first fired, they don’t own a home, so they’re sort of footloose and fancy free,” he said. “They’ll be the first ones to move.”
Bachtel said such problems are hard to address. Efforts to attract employers needing a high level of skills may simply result in more people commuting from the suburbs, he said. And the community needs to talk openly about issues including race and class.
“That’s going to take a tremendous amount of leadership,” he said. “This is a minefield, and I would feel sorry for any politician who brings it up, because that politician isn’t going to be around very long.”
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates have varying degrees of accuracy, depending on the size of the group. Macon’s number of white people is listed as 28,826 people, plus or minus 1,014. Macon’s number of native Hawaiians and Pacific islanders is estimated at just 20 -- give or take 28. Estimates for some of the smallest groups in small areas, such as Hispanics in Jones County, have very high margins of error.
State-level population figures from the 2010 census are scheduled to be released Tuesday. Local population figures, including age and race, are expected in several months.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.