“The Great Reverse Migration”: blacks move away from northern cities

The Great Migration brought more than 6 million blacks to the north from the south starting in the early 20th century but now it looks like the population flow might be working in reverse:

The New York Times noticed in the early 1970s that, for the first time, more blacks were moving from the North to the South than vice versa. Last year, the Times described the South’s share of black population growth as “about half the country’s total in the 1970s, two-thirds in the 1990s and three-quarters in the decade that just ended.”

Many of the migrants are “buppies” — young, college-educated, upwardly mobile black professionals — and older retirees. Over the last two decades, according to the Census, the states with the biggest gains in black population have been Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Texas and Florida. New York, Illinois and Michigan have seen the greatest losses. Today, 57 percent of American blacks live in the South — the highest percentage in a half-century.

Much of the migration has been urban-to-urban. During the first decade of this century, according to Brookings Institution demographer Bill Frey, the cities making the biggest gains in black population were Atlanta, Dallas and Houston. Meanwhile, New York City’s black population fell by 67,709, Chicago’s by 58,225, Detroit’s by 37,603.

Plenty of the migrants have been moving from cities to suburbs, too. “By 2000 there were 57 metropolitan areas with at least 50,000 black suburbanites, compared to just 33 in 1980,” notes sociologist Andrew Wiese. The 2010 census revealed that 51 percent of blacks in the 100 largest metro areas lived in the suburbs. As journalist Joel Garreu describes it, suburbia now includes a “large, church-going, home-owning, childbearing, backyard barbecuing, traffic-jam-cursing black middle class remarkable for the very ordinariness with which its members go about their classically American suburban affairs.”

The article goes on to talk about four reasons why this is occurring: the private sector has been creating more jobs in the south, housing is cheaper in the south, public services in the north like schools aren’t that great, and retirees are looking for better weather.

The suburbs data mentioned above is fascinating: more blacks are in more metropolitan areas and a majority of blacks in the largest metro areas live in the suburbs. While there is some evidence blacks are moving to the south, might there even be stronger evidence that blacks are moving to the suburbs? At the same time, this does not necessarily mean that these suburbs are great places; many inner-ring suburbs face a lot of big city problems and perhaps have even fewer resources to deal with the problem. For example, see this post from last year about blacks moving from Detroit to suburbs that have similar troubles.

This also reminds me of some of the demographic mobility in the United States: 110 years ago, there were relatively few blacks in northern cities. Five decades ago, whites fled many of these cities because they thought blacks were invading their neighborhoods. Now, blacks are moving to the suburbs and back to the south. I have never seen any figures on this but it seems like the United States has a relatively high degree of internal mobility compared to other countries.

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