WASHINGTON (CBS) — Census estimates show the nation’s African-Americans are leaving big cities in the Northeast and Midwest – including Chicago – at the highest levels in decades.

They are returning to fast-growing states in the once-segregated South in search of better job opportunities and quality of life.

The South — places such as Atlanta, Dallas and Houston — accounted for roughly 75 percent of the population gains among blacks since 2000. The gains came at the expense of Northern metro areas such as New York and Chicago, which posted their first declines in black population since at least 1980.

In all, about 57 percent of U.S. blacks now live in the South, a jump from the 53 percent share in the 1970s.

The findings are expected to be highlighted in official 2010 results that show changes in the nation’s non-Hispanic black populations.

Chicago had long been the city with the second-largest black population in the country, behind only New York. But a report last year by the Brookings Institute indicated that Atlanta had surpassed Chicago, the Huffington Post reported at the time.

While there are almost 10 million residents in the Chicago metro area – including Northwest Indiana and parts of southern Wisconsin – the Atlanta metro area has only about 6 million, the Huffington Post reported. As of 1990, Atlanta ranked only seventh nationally in terms of the size of its African-American population.

Other southern cities, including Dallas, Houston, Miami, Charlotte, Phoenix and Tampa have seen significant increases in their black populations, the report said.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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