Moving On Up–Not! Major Decline In African-American Household Mobility

January 28, 2015  |  

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It seems that African Americans just can get a foothold to move up. According to a new study, even before the economic recession, Black households in the U.S. had a major slowdown in their mobility.

The study was conducted by sociologist Patrick Sharkey and published this month in the journal Demography. The study offers a detailed look at the migration patterns of Black households compared to their White counterparts over nearly a century.

Sharkey examined three key trends among the generations: The extent to which previous cohorts conform to the “Great Migration” of Blacks from the South to the North; the degree to which more recent generations follow the so-called “reverse migration” as Blacks return to the South; and to compare the mobility of Blacks to that of Whites.

Sharkey found that older conformed to the Great Migration; Black families in those generations moved dominantly northward and eastward.

And moving became even more common among Blacks between the following generations as 32 percent of Black families relocated, compared to 23 percent of whites. Sixteen percent of Black households went northeast, while six percent traveled straight north.

Mobility starts to slow down as we get further along to the focal group of the study, those born between 1952 and 1982. “Sharkey finds limited evidence for a reverse migration. Startlingly, he instead finds that Black mobility has slowed to a crawl,” reports City Lab.  In fact, 85 percent of Black families did not move at all among these generations. And only eight percent of Black households moved South during this period.

Blacks didn’t even relocate from county to county. When Sharkey analyzed the county level, he discovered that almost seven in 10 Black Americans of of this later generation stayed in the same county from childhood to adulthood. This is  more than one and a half times the rate at which whites in the same generation stayed (45 percent). Additionally, more than 8 in 10 (82 percent) stayed put in the same state. And a whopping 90 percent remained in the same region.

“The degree of intergenerational geographic immobility among Black Americans not only is much greater than for whites,” Sharkey writes, “but also represents a marked shift from the prior generation.”

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