Significant Implications for Education, Jobs and Housing
Newly released census data shows that blacks moved away in large numbers from many of America's major cities to the suburbs, with the most significant shifts in population occurring in the South.
The motivation behind the move between 2000 and 2010 included the promise of well-paying jobs, better amenities and a desire on the part of parents to move to stronger schools and safer neighborhoods. Meanwhile, as blacks move away from urban centers, there has been a corresponding influx of whites which is changing the complexion of these cities.
"This could lead to the potential bifurcation of life in the city," said Julianne Malveaux, a noted economist and author. "There are also questions about political power and political sensitivity. Will someone in Ward 3 want to transfer goods, services and opportunities elsewhere (to less affluent wards)? Will they vote for schools in another ward?"
What Do These Shifts Portend?
Malveaux was among a panel of census officials, demographers and experts assembled by the National Urban League at Black Entertainment Television in Northeast to discuss the survey and findings on Thursday, Feb. 2. They spoke before an audience of about 50 people about the profound implications for blacks economically, politically, socially and educationally as a result of these population shifts.
The panel consisted of five participants and moderator Kristal Lauren High, founding editor-in-chief of Politics 365, a multimedia publication which focuses on politics and policy issues that have an impact on people of color.
In the District of Columbia, the departure of blacks to the suburbs has meant the dilution of their numbers in the nation's capital. Currently, blacks make up about 55 percent of the population, down from a high of about 75 percent in the 1990s, prompting a number of black residents to lament the loss of their beloved "Chocolate City." Speculation is also rife about how this translates politically.
Malveaux, president of Bennett College for Women, said she has already started to see the changing patterns, adding that the new racial character of cities is noticeable, including in Greensboro, N.C. where Bennett College is located. She said the drop in the black population will likely spark speculation about the concentration of black political power, the power of blacks' political voice and how well blacks will be able to leverage that to effect meaningful change.
"What type of conversations we have will be around what our country will look like. [Blacks'] political power is waning," she said. "I'm [also] interested in the gender balance and who's left."
Malveaux said she believes there will be a gender imbalance with more women left behind in cities, and that population will be "blacker, browner, older and younger."
Odis Johnson Jr., an assistant professor in African American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, agreed with Malveaux.
"When I first saw these figures, I realized that bifurcation is truly happening," he said of the deepening divisions. "Residential opportunity leads to educational attainment. People are being driven out of schools which is why they are leaving the cities. There is a 52 percent increase in poverty in the suburbs because of policies pushing blacks with lower incomes into suburban areas."
Johnson, a faculty associate at the Maryland Population Research Center, cited statistics which indicate that the number of blacks with bachelor's degrees rose 4 percent between 2000 and 2010, while the number of blacks earning advanced degrees in that same time period moved from 950,000 to 1.5 million.
Despite the changes in demography, Patricia A. Coulter, president of the Urban League of Philadelphia, said blacks still make up the largest ethnic group with 640,000 people which represents a 1 percent decline in the past 10 years.
"What we're seeing is sort of urban-rural," she said. "People are moving but still call for services. We're not so driven by a specific neighborhood. We're in the Center City but we can counsel or cater to people across the city."
Coulter said her agency is working closely with young people who have dropped out of school. They are encouraged to complete at least a high school education and are also trained for entry-level and other jobs. She said the Urban League is also working with small business owners and entrepreneurs as more blacks start their own businesses.
Hunting High and Low for a Decent Job
Margaret Simms, a fellow at the Urban Institute and a nationally recognized authority on the economic well-being of African Americans, cited a soon-to-be released study on the 100 best places to live based on residential segregation, neighborhood attitudes, and the quality of public schools, employment opportunities and home ownership. "Data suggests that the top 10 cities blacks are moving to are not promising in terms of the availability of jobs," she said.
"Job growth has decreased. We need to be concerned for the black community and the nation as a whole," said Simms. "If we cannot provide opportunities in these metro areas, the nation will not move forward at the speed it should."
She said there's a growing gap in the black population (between blacks and other races) since lower educational skills translate into fewer job opportunities.
"Moving to the suburbs doesn't necessarily mean people are moving to better jobs. They are moving to poorer communities," said Simms.
In the Washington metropolitan region, for example, Simms said, jobs are far from where people live. Currently, a high concentration of black residents exists in Wards 7 and 8 and Prince George's County, east of the District, but the "good jobs" are west of the city, she said.
Simms echoed sentiments expressed by panelist Roderick J. Harrison, Ph.D., that business and entrepreneurship alone in the black community will not close the wealth-income gap between blacks and whites.
Harrison, a researcher with Howard University and a senior fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Northwest, said there is one dominant myth that needs to be dispelled about the availability of jobs and related issues.
"It is a myth that jobs and opportunities are out there if only we got an education," he said. "Employers hire if there is a demand for products. They will hire if they need the labor to make a product to sell here or overseas."
Harrison said there is a "preference queue" which favors people other than blacks and Latinos. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of this queue is the fact that black and Hispanics are the last to be hired.
"The sectors of growth [in the economy] are not owned by blacks," he said. "Affirmative action and the allocation of fair shares – that's where we need to concentrate. Blacks have a history of [chronic] unemployment ... blacks and Hispanics will be the last to be hired. It is incredibly powerful how you can trace these patterns out."
"We are repeating a pattern that is not a legacy of discrimination or racism but it happens. I'd like to see us get past this cycle."
Harrison says alliances and partnership are one viable way blacks can consolidate their political and economic power.
"The direction has to be toward coalition, to link with people of similar political priorities, not voting blocs of one color but organized around the issues people have," he said. "Ninety percent of black and Hispanic agendas overlap. There is no reason why we should not form coalitions to address education, housing, health and employment issues blacks may have been fighting for for decades."
Hard Economic Realities Decimating the Black Community
All of the panelists acknowledged the severe pressures blacks and other Americans are dealing with because of the economic meltdown in 2008, the lingering recession and the dearth of jobs and other opportunities.
Malveaux said of the young women from the graduating class of 2011, one-third couldn't find the jobs they wanted so many of them applied to graduate school or took jobs outside of their fields.
"This particular generation is turned off with the process and need to identify the economic rewards," she said. "It's what have you done for me lately. Young people are dealing with economic survival, dealing with paying tuition and trying to find where the jobs are."
From a political standpoint, some panelists said, the fact that young people generally have less enthusiasm for President Obama and the political process than four years ago presents potential problems as the November elections draw near.
Add to that the concerted attempt by state legislatures to gerrymander as they redraw districts that will dilute 'black and brown power'; deep budget cuts at the state and local level; the sustained backlash against public employees by Republicans; high unemployment, race and gender inequities, racism and discrimination, and the situation looks bleak, some said.
Johnson's comment that black Americans need to consider different approaches through creative thinking and innovation prompted nods of agreement from fellow panelists and the audience.
But Coulter and National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial said now is not the time for people to shy away from the challenges that face black America.
"We need to gain more courage in attacking these issues," Coulter asserted. "We need to ... become more creative."