The San Francisco Chronicle reported today that Oakland’s black population dropped around 25 percent over the last decade, from 139,000 to 106,000, according to U.S. Census data:
African Americans have been moving in large numbers from urban areas to the suburbs and beyond for the past two decades in California. But the migration has particular significance in Oakland.
Oakland was where the Black Panther Party was founded, the place that produced iconic black politicians, athletes and entertainers. Hall of Fame athletes Joe Morgan, Bill Russell and Rickey Henderson all grew up in Oakland. So did entertainers like the R&B group the Pointer Sisters. Black congressional leaders Ron Dellums and Barbara Lee are both from Oakland.
Oakland’s black community “brought African American identity into the mainstream, instead of the margins,” said Ishmael Reed, author of “Blues City: a Walk in Oakland” and a longtime resident. “I just hate to see the decline.”
Black people remain the single largest ethnic group at 27.3 percent of the population, just slightly greater than the white and Hispanic populations, which are 25.9 and 25.4 percent of the population respectively. Asians account for 16.7 percent. In 1980, black people accounted for 46 percent of the city….
All of the state’s major cities, except Sacramento, saw declines in their black populations. Inland areas saw gains. African Americans make up 5.8 percent of California’s population.
This flight from the city is no different than what’s going on in Harlem, or Seattle’s Central Area. The same historic and economic forces are at play in all of these cases. First, blacks were ghettoized in certain areas after the Great Migrations from the South during the middle of 20th Century. Until open housing became a federally enforced reality in the late 1960s, it was very hard for African Americans to move beyond these neighborhoods, which then came to be seen as “traditionally” black. As it became possible to move elsewhere in the 1970s, many African Americans understandably took the opportunity.
The second factor has been changes in the global economy that make it much more desirable for people with higher wages to live inside cities, driven by the advance of tech, finance, and other information jobs, which are usually centrally located. The rising cost of commuting, a couple decade long drop in crime levels, and the proliferation of private schools to service families who don’t want to mess with the public system have also contributed.
The result has been the redevelopment of former “ghettos” and corresponding spikes in property taxes, meaning that many people who might like to stay find the only real option is to sell and move to the exurbs, places like Stockton in the Bay Area, and Renton in the Seattle area.
One thing that was surprising to me as I reported The Hustle was how much things had flipped in 20 years — southern suburbs of Seattle that had been considered white and working class are now mixed, with African Americans, Latinos, Africans, Asians and whites all living in the same place. The common denominator is a lower income level than in Seattle proper, which now with its Whole Foods, Trader Joes, glass-fronted townhouses, is a city with a much different feel than the one I grew up in.
It seems to me that we’re seeing a switch in which the highly educated will increasingly live in the centers of our most prosperous cities while those who provide support services will be pushed further and further out, increasing the disconnect between economic classes even more as there is no crossover at work, at schools, or geographically.