Sophia Tareen, Associated Press, March 13, 2022
A longtime area staple with its wagon wheel décor and “Roy Rogers ribeye,” The Ranch Steak House is fighting to reopen as one of the last sit-down restaurants in the once-flourishing Black Chicago neighborhood of Roseland.
About 13 miles (21 kilometers) away near Indiana, Christopher Cain and wife Deja Cousins-Cain sought a new market for their wine bar that promises “Good Vibes Only,” settling on the suburb of Lansing, where growth has included a steady increase in Black residents.
The two enclaves of roughly 30,000 people reflect how Black migration patterns in the 21st century are changing the makeup of metropolitan areas nationwide. For decades, Black residents have been leaving some of the nation’s largest cities while suburbs have seen an increase in their Black populations. Those two trends have now spread to even more areas of the country, according to the 2020 U.S. census.
The patterns echo the “white flight” that upended urban landscapes in the 20th century. Like those who left cities before them, Black residents often move because of worries about crime and a desire for reputable schools, affordable housing and amenities. But there are key differences: Leaving Black city neighborhoods that are starved for investment is often more of a necessity than a choice, and those who do settle into new suburban lives often find racial inequities there, too.
From 1990 to 2000, 13 of the United States’ biggest cities lost Black residents. By 2020, it was 23. According to the census, roughly 54% of Black residents within the 100 biggest American metro areas were suburbanites in 2020, up from 43% two decades ago, according to Bill Frey of the Brookings Institution.
While New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia all lost Black residents from 2010 to 2020, the change was especially notable in Chicago, which gained population but lost 85,000 Black people, the highest number after Detroit, according to the 2020 census. Those numbers could vary slightly, as the Census Bureau reported last week that 3.3% of the Black population was undercounted in the 2020 census, a rate higher than in 2010.
The official count found that a section of Roseland measuring less than 1 square mile lost 1,600 Black residents. Now, the area near where former President Barack Obama was a community organizer — located about 20 minutes south of downtown — doesn’t even have a grocery store. That makes Judy Ware, who bought the Ranch restaurant in 2018, more determined to hang on.
The trends are nuanced. Part of the explanation is that Black residents are continuing to move to Southern cities in a reversal of the Great Migration, a movement that began in the 1910s and resulted in millions leaving the South for northern cities to escape discrimination. But more recently, some of the starkest changes are happening within metro areas as suburbs of major cities see Black population growth.
Black residents, who represented roughly 40% of Chicago’s population in 1980, now make up less than 30%. Their presence increased, meanwhile, in dozens of Chicago suburbs from 2010 to 2020.
Chicago residents and demographers offer no shortage of reasons for the urban exodus:
— The decline of the steel industry and blue-collar jobs starting in the 1970s. — The war on drugs. — The dismantling of public housing in the 2000s that displaced thousands of Black residents. — School closures in 2014 that disproportionately affected Black and Latino children.
Chicago, long a segregated city, continues to report disparate outcomes by race when it comes to home ownership, income, transportation access and more. In Roseland, residents note persistent crime, delayed city services and a train line that ends at Roseland’s northern edge. Worries persist about population loss diluting Black political power as drafts of a political remapping show fewer majority-Black wards.
Many said those issues forced them to leave.
Truck driver Chris Calhoun, 32, sought more peace in suburban South Holland in 2014.
The deciding factor for him, he said, was, “Where can I live where my kids can go outside and ride their bikes, or we can take a walk around the block as a family without looking over my shoulder?”