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Black communities are shrinking in once predominantly-Black US cities


The number of Black residents in U.S. cities with some of the most prominent Black communities decreased dramatically over the past two decades, including New York, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia. Politico calls it the next great migration and has just launched a series with the same name that takes a look at the effect of that migration on politics and culture.

Politico's Brakkton Booker, who used to be here at NPR, joins us.

Brakkton, wonderful reporting - thanks so much for being with us.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: The first installment focuses on Chicago. Why have so many Black families been leaving Chicago?

BOOKER: Well, that is the question we've been trying to answer for some time now. There are a lot of families that are looking to leave because they want to have bigger homes and better schools and get away from crime that's in the city. So they moved to the suburbs. Other folks are just saying, like, it's just time to go. There's not enough here for me - because when I first came to Chicago, when my family first moved to Chicago, there were thriving Black businesses. There were Black banks. There were a lot more offerings in the city. And that has really disappeared now. So I want to go find someplace that I can live, where I can try to find and recreate that type of life. And so folks are leaving in droves from Chicago.

SIMON: Yeah. And this is substantially changing the map of local politics, isn't it? The Chicago City Council is now involved in a debate about redrawing the lines for its 50 seats. And there are expected to be fewer Black representatives as a result.

BOOKER: Yes. Yes. I mean it has an effect up and down, from state to local to now - to city politics. So you're seeing that with a decrease of Black populations in the city of Chicago that there are other populations that are going to fill that void. So you're seeing a large increase of Latino population. And you're seeing big increases of Asian populations. And you know, politics is about numbers. So when one group is up, another group is down. And there are real battles being fought right now about what the city will look like over the next 10 years. And that's continuing as we speak.

SIMON: Brakkton, not two days go by we don't read about another particularly vicious and tragic murder in Chicago. To what degree is the crime rate playing into the calculations that families have to make about their futures?

BOOKER: Well, I mean, if you're living in Chicago and you have the means to move, I'm sure that plays a big role in whether or not you stay and if you feel like you can put down roots and continue to keep your family safe and still send them to get a good education. You also have to remember, Scott, that there are a lot of people that don't have the means to move. That is their home.

SIMON: Yeah. Where are some of the places people are moving?

BOOKER: That is the million-dollar question there, Scott. You know - as you know, the census figures provide a snapshot of where people are at, you know, any given time every 10 years. So we desperately tried to get some harder data on where people are leaving to go to. What we can anecdotally say is that people are moving to the suburbs. We saw the suburbs jump over the last 20 years quite a bit. It went from less than 500,000 Black residents to just over 600,000 in the last 20 years. So you're seeing people move to the suburbs, even as far out as across state lines and into Indiana. Other than that, we are still doing some reporting on trying to find where other residents move. And are we seeing that folks are moving in droves to the South? There is some evidence that that is true. But we're not entirely sure of which cities they are moving to and which numbers.

SIMON: Is Houston among those cities that you're looking at?

BOOKER: Houston is definitely. I mean, 9 out of 10 large cities with majority Black populations saw populations decrease of African Americans. Houston was the only one that saw the increase. So we're looking into why that is - surely, cost of living. Weather is better there.

SIMON: Well, forgive me. I say this, as you know, as a Chicagoan, but weather is better there between hurricanes.

BOOKER: Well, absolutely. Absolutely - and when the grids are working...

SIMON: Yeah.

BOOKER: ...And you're not losing power. Yes, all of that is true. But there seems to be better economic opportunity for folks there. And we're trying to pinpoint, what are the industries that are attracting Black residents in such high numbers, and what's keeping them there?

SIMON: Politico's Brakkton Booker - thanks so much for being with us. Good job.

BOOKER: Absolutely. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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