Belmont Club

Black Flight

SF Gate says blacks are leaving San Francisco faster than any other major US city, citing “substandard schools, a lack of affordable housing and the dearth of jobs and black culture”. They are not the only city which blacks are deserting at record rates. The New York Times writes

Both Michigan and Illinois, whose cities have rich black cultural traditions, showed an overall loss of blacks for the first time, said William Frey, the chief demographer at the Brookings Institution … as younger and more educated black residents move out of declining cities in the Northeast and Midwest in search of better opportunities…

“This is the decade of black flight,” said Mr. Frey. “It’s a new age for African-Americans. It’s long overdue, but it seems to be happening.”

The Daily Mail quotes demographers and housing professionals who said “‘They’re going to the Sun Belt and particularly the South. The ones who stay in the area want to move to the suburbs.”

According to Chinwe Onyeagoro, CEO of O-H Community Partners, a Chicago-based economic development consulting firm, sunny skies and warm temperatures are luring not only retirees but also young professionals who may have friends or relatives in the Sun Belt — Atlanta and Houston in particular.

Suburbs are also a huge draw.

She told USA Today: ‘Typically, middle-class African-American families make the same kind of choices that white families have made for some time.

‘As soon as kids are school-age, they move to the suburbs which are also luring lower-income blacks who are leaving neighbourhoods that don’t have supermarkets and other retail.’

Wikipedia’s article on Black Flight describes the process in this way:

Since the 2000 census, the number and proportion of black population has decreased in several major cities, including New York, Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, DC. Atlanta is different, as blacks there have moved to the suburbs, and the metropolitan area is one that attracts young migrants.

More importantly, in addition to moving to suburbs, since 1965 African Americans have been returning to the South in a New Great Migration, especially since 1990 to the states of Georgia, Texas, and Maryland, whose economies have expanded. In many cases, they are following the documented movement of jobs to the suburbs and the South. Because more African Americans are attaining college degrees, they are better able to find and obtain better-paying jobs and move to the suburbs. Most African-American migrants leaving the northern regions have gone to the “New South” states, where economies and jobs have grown from knowledge industries, services and technology.

John Connor of South Carolina’s The State says these population movements will inevitably affect the composition of political districts and consequently, the structure of American politics. One of the big losers may be the traditional black American political leadership. Earl Ofari Hutchinson of EMPower Magazine argues that “black” politicians can no longer be “black”. They have to consciously appeal to a far wider coalition of voters.

The out flight of blacks from urban neighborhoods and the increasing number of whites, Hispanics and Asians that have relocated into these areas, have plainly worried some African-American leaders. They see the falling numbers as a potential threat to diminish black voting strength and political power.

A quirk of segregation was that exclusively or majority-black neighborhoods provided steady, reliable and concentrated African American votes that fueled the leap in the number of black elected officials during the past quarter century. Black leaders fear that the drop in those numbers will result in a decline in the number of black elected officials.

And it’s a fear based in fact. In recent years, blacks have lost some mayoral offices in such cities as New Orleans and Oakland, and come close to losing the mayorship in Atlanta.

The ethnic change has forced blacks to scramble and sharply broaden their campaign pitches, appeals and promises to other ethnic groups. It’s almost mandatory that African American elected officials now have diverse campaign staffs and representatives to service their multicultural constituencies. That’s especially true for majority or near-majority Hispanic constituencies in districts that previously had solid black majorities.

Open thread: will demographic trends coupled with mobility eventually mean the end of identity politics based on racial lines? When does a black “multicultural” candidate essentially become just another politician in which ethnic identity means little or nothing in comparison with his economic and policy positions? Will the Democratic “Big Tent” need re-architecturing? What will the impact of these shifts be on the Republican Party? Granted that these are long-term trends, what will these developments mean for 2012?

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