Recent College Graduates Are Pushing Lower-Income African Americans Out of Cities

Eric Tang, Washington Post, October 29, 2014

How do we make sense of the fact that America’s most progressive cities, the ones that cherish diversity, are losing African Americans? And that the most conservative places are doing the opposite?

Between 2000 and 2010, cities like Austin, Chicago, Washington D.C., San Francisco–places that vote majority Democrat, consider themselves socially and culturally progressive, and boast racial diversity–all lost unprecedented numbers of African Americans. San Francisco, for instance, saw a staggering 20.4 percent loss in its African American population between 2000 and 2010. Chicago and Washington D.C. also experienced double-digit losses.

During that same decade, the only three major cities (populations over 500,000) that voted Republican in the 2012 presidential election–Phoenix, Fort Worth, and Oklahoma City–all saw significant increases in African American numbers; their African-American populations grew by 36.1 percent, 28 percent and 11.4 percent respectively.

Rebecca Diamond, an economist at Stanford University, offers one salient explanation.

Her research points to how cities such as Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C. have over the past three decades attracted ever-larger numbers of college graduates. Using Census data, Diamond shows that as college graduates occupied larger shares of these cities’ work forces (while avoiding other cities they deem less attractive) income inequality in these cities grew.

Urban industries and amenities catered to the higher-waged worker, making these cities more expensive to live in. Lower-wage workers (those with only a high school diploma) also desired the enhanced quality of life offered by these cities–better food and air quality, lower crime rates–but they couldn’t afford to live in them. Simply put, as college grads arrived, lower-waged workers were driven out.

Although Diamond’s study does not analyze how specific racial groups are impacted by what she terms a “national gentrification effect,” it appears that African Americans have bore the disproportionate brunt of it.


It’s not that these cities are no longer liberal, per se, but that the brand of (neo)liberalism they now celebrate is unaccountable to the concerns championed by lower-waged workers: universal prekindergarten, affordable housing, and the de-privatization of public space (crystallized by last month’s San Francisco’s playground fiasco that garnered national headlines). It’s a liberalism that has, quite literally, left not room for the low-waged worker, particularly African Americans.


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