By Hope Yen, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Affluent black Americans who are leaving industrial cities for the suburbs and the South are shifting traditional lines between rich and poor, according to new census data. Their migration is widening the income gap between whites and the inner-city blacks who remain behind, while making blacks less monolithic as a group and subject to greater income disparities.
"Reverse migration is changing the South and its race relations," said Roderick Harrison, a Howard University sociologist and former chief of racial statistics at the Census Bureau.
He said a rising black middle class is promoting a growing belief among some black conservatives that problems of the disadvantaged are now rooted more in character or cultural problems, rather than race. But Harrison said most black Americans maintain a strong racial identity, focused on redressing perceived lack of opportunities, in part because many of them maintain close ties to siblings or other blacks who are less successful.
"I don't think suburban blacks are yet driven by their higher income or new locations, although this might have a greater effect in a generation or two," he said.
The typical white person last year earned income roughly 1.7 times higher than that of blacks, the widest ratio since the 1990s. Census figures released Thursday show that cities such as Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Milwaukee in particular saw increases in inequality, hurt by an exodus of middle-class minorities while lower-skilled blacks stayed in the cities.
Low-income blacks also slipped further behind. The share of black households ranking among the poorest poor — those earning less than $15,000 — climbed from 20% to 26% over the past decade; other race and ethnic groups posted smaller increases. At the same time, African-Americans making $200,000 or more a year were unchanged from 2000 at about 1.1%, even after a deep recession.
Many affluent blacks are moving to the South, seeking a return to their ancestral homeland after a decades-long Great Migration to the North.
Pursuing a better quality of life, they are opting for more upscale metropolitan locales rather than the traditional rural communities of the old South in places such as Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, which remain home to larger shares of minority farmers, construction and other low-wage workers.
Since 1990, blacks living in Southern urban locations such as Atlanta, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and Miami, where incomes rose in the last decade, have increased 70%.