The U.S. may have its first black president, but these have not been the best of times for African-Americans. Recent shootings of unarmed black teenagers and the murder of two New York City police officers have inflamed racial tensions. A Bloomberg poll in December found that 53% of respondents believed that race relations have declined since Obama was elected in 2008.
Even if the results were not skewed by the immediate, impassioned responses to the recent tragedies, the persistent economic gap between whites and blacks is a more serious and deep-rooted problem. The unemployment rate for African-Americans stood at 10.4% in December, more than twice that of whites, as it has been formost of the past 40 years.
Blacks’ real median household income ticked up to $34,598 in 2013, roughly 59% that of whites’, a ratio that has also not varied much since the Census Bureau began tracking this data in 1967.
Where African-Americans took a significant step back in recent years was in household wealth, which plunged 31% during the recession, including a steep 35% decline in their retirement assets, which the Urban Institute suggests was partially due to the unemployed drawing down savings to cover living expenses. The wealth of white families fell a comparatively mild 11% from 2007-10.
Yet economic conditions for African-Americans vary widely throughout the country. We decided to look into which of America’s 52 largest metropolitan areas present African-Americans with the best opportunities. We weighed these metropolitan statistical areas by three critical factors — homeownership, entrepreneurship, as measured by the self-employment rate, and median household income — that we believe are indicators of middle-class success. Data for those is from 2013. In addition, we added a fourth category, demographic trends, measuring the change in the African-American population from 2000 to 2013 in these metro areas, to judge how the community is “voting with its feet.” Each factor was given equal weight.
In the first half of the 20th century, African-Americans fled the former Confederate state for economic opportunity, to escape from institutional racism and, sometimes, for their lives. This pattern,notes demographer Bill Frey, began to reverse itself in the 1970s, with Southern states becoming destinations for black migrants. Since 2000, when the Census registered the first increase in the region’s black population in more than a century, this trend has accelerated, with African-Americans leaving not just the Northeast or Midwest, but the West Coast as well.
Today, Dixie has emerged, in many ways, as the new promised land for African-Americans. In our survey the South accounts for a remarkable 13 of the top 15 metro areas.
At the top of our list is Atlanta, long hailed as the unofficial capital of black America. The city, which in the 1960s advertised itself as “the city too busy to hate,” has long lured ambitious African-Americans. With its well-established religious and educational institutions, notably Spellman and Morehouse, which are ranked first and third, respectively, by US News among the nation’s historically black colleges, the area has arguably the strongest infrastructure for African-American advancement in the country. The region’s strong music and art scene has also made it an “epicenter for black glitterati” and culture.
The superlatives extend well beyond glamour to the basics of everyday life. Some 46.9% the metro area’s black population owned their own homes as of 2013, well above the 38% major metro average for African-Americans. Atlanta’s African-Americans have a median household income of $41,800, also considerably above the major metro average, while their rate of self-employment, 17.1%, is second only to New Orleans.
Clear evidence of the Atlanta area’s appeal can be seen in the growth of the black population, up 50% from 2000 through 2013. This is also well above the of 28% average growth in the African-American population in the nation’s 52 biggest metro areas during the same time.
This shift of African-Americans to Southern metro areas is widespread. Population growth since 2000 above 40% was posted by No. 2 metro area Raleigh, N.C.; Charlotte, N.C. (sixth); Orlando (seventh) as well as the three cities that tie for eighth place: Miami; Richmond, Va.; and San Antonio. The same can be said of Texas’ other big cities: Austin (11th), Houston (12th) and Dallas-Fort Worth (13th).
If there’s a challenger to Atlanta and the renewed Southern ascendency for African-Americans, it’s the greater Washington, D.C., area which ranks third. The median black household income in the metro area is $64,896, more than $20,000 above that of Atlanta and other top-ranked southern cities. Home ownership rates, at 49.2%, are also the highest in the nation.
As in Atlanta, Washington’s black community has strong institutions of culture and higher education. The District is home to Howard University, the nation’s second-ranked historically black university. Washington’s urban core may be becoming less black — down from 60% in 2000 to under 50% in 2013– but this has been more than made up for by the burgeoning population of surrounding suburban areas such as Prince George’s County, which is majority black and relatively prosperous, with poverty rates well below those of the city. The key plus here appears to be the the federal government, which employs many people at high wages in the area.
Incomes also have been boosted by the government in No. 4 Baltimore, which enjoys the third highest black median income and the third highest self-employment rate after Atlanta and New Orleans. As in Washington, much of this prosperity is not in the hardscrabble city core, but in surrounding suburban areas such as Baltimore County, where the black population grew from 20% of the total in 2000 to over 26% in 2010.
Where African-Americans Are Struggling
Many of the metro areas at the bottom of our list are the once mighty manufacturing hubs where Southern blacks flocked in the Great Migration: last place Milwaukee, followed by Grand Rapids, Mich.; Cincinnati (50th); Pittsburgh (tied for 48th) Cleveland (47th) and Buffalo (46th). African-Americans in these old industrial towns earn on average $10,000 to $15,000 less than their counterparts in Atlanta. Self-employment rates are half as high as those in our top 10 cities.
Of course, none of this is too surprising, given the long-term economic malaise in the Rust Belt. But some of our most prosperous metro areas are also not working out well for blacks. These include San Francisco-Oakland, which tied with Pittsburgh for 48th, Los Angeles (40th) and Seattle (36th). In these cities, homeownership rates for African-Americans tend to be 10 to 15 percentage points lower, and self-employment close to half of what we see in greater Washington, Atlanta, Raleigh, Charlotte and the four big Texas cities.
Blacks populations have declined in some of these metro areas, including San Francisco, which has seen a 9.1% drop since 2000, and Los Angeles, where the African-American population has fallen 8%. Chicago (31st), long a major center of black America, has seen a 4% drop since 2000, while the black population of the New York metro area (24th) has grown just 2.4%.
Ironically, many of the metro areas at the top of our list tend to vote Republican. But many local Democratic politicians in the South support generally pro-business economic agendas. African-Americans, who tend to have fewer economic assets than whites, need growth to expand their opportunities; that’s one reason they do so well, relatively, in the South.
But it’s not just growth. Places like Los Angeles and the Bay Area are losing black population because of their high housing prices. Hollywood stars and tech titans may not mind, but it’s tough for most everyone else to buy a house in the big California cities and New York. Housing prices in Atlanta and Houston, relative to incomes, are about half or more less than those in the Bay Area.
|Best Cities for African Americans|
|Metropolitan Area||Rank||Score||Home Ownrshp Rate||Median Hshld Income||Share of Self Emplymt||Change in Population: 2000-2013|
|Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC||6||72.6||43.8%||$40,677||13.2%||34.6%|
|San Antonio, TX||8||68.3||40.8%||$41,681||9.3%||43.3%|
|Dallas-Fort Worth, TX||13||64.4||38.7%||$40,239||9.5%||45.2%|
|Riverside-San Bernardino, CA||18||58.2||40.9%||$42,673||7.6%||32.6%|
|Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL||21||52.9||36.6%||$31,665||10.8%||40.9%|
|New York, NY-NJ-PA||24||49.5||32.0%||$43,381||10.9%||2.4%|
|New Orleans. LA||25||46.6||45.5%||$27,812||17.4%||-13.4%|
|Las Vegas, NV||26||46.2||29.0%||$34,281||8.3%||77.7%|
|Kansas City, MO-KS||30||43.8||39.4%||$35,277||8.3%||15.8%|
|Oklahoma City, OK||32||41.8||39.2%||$34,745||7.8%||18.4%|
|San Jose, CA||33||40.9||32.9%||$53,645||7.2%||11.4%|
|St. Louis,, MO-IL||35||39.4||42.4%||$31,215||9.1%||6.9%|
|San Diego, CA||39||33.7||30.1%||$46,650||7.1%||2.6%|
|Los Angeles, CA||40||32.2||32.9%||$40,980||7.7%||-8.0%|
|Salt Lake City, UT||41||31.7||18.7%||$32,102||5.5%||94.2%|
|Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI||44||30.8||26.3%||$31,564||6.4%||69.2%|
|San Francisco-Oakland, CA||48||25.5||30.8%||$40,152||7.3%||-9.1%|
|Grand Rapids, MI||51||21.6||29.9%||$25,495||8.0%||19.3%|
|Calculated from 2013 American Community Survey & EMSI data|
|Analysis by Wendell Cox|
This piece first appeared at Forbes.
Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.