“Black Exodus” – Inequality and Culture Loss
Author: Yosuke Kagaya
Program of Study: Master of Public Policy (MPP), Harris School of Public Policy (HAR)
Description: You may be surprised to hear that Black population in Chicago decreased to about 30% in 40 years. Some research shows that disinvestment to areas of black people caused poverty and crime, leading “Black Exodus.” Now, it is time for us to consider culture loss that the exodus will bring.
Transcript (provided by author):
Welcome to the ELI’s Finding Chicago Global Perspectives Podcast Series for AEPP 2022. I’m your host, Yosuke Kagaya, and I’m currently enrolled in the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. Today we will be exploring the topic of Black Population Loss in Chicago.
My interest in Black issues was sparked by my actual experience after my arrival in Chicago. One Saturday night I was on a late bus on my way home from shopping in Downtown Chicago. Around 11 pm, three Black boys boarded the bus. The loud sound of them yelling and joking around filled the bus, and they were even making a gesture to throw garbage to the other passengers including me. I felt annoyed at first but then I realized that they wore obviously old and shabby clothes. It may be a hasty generalization to assume the correlation among race, poverty and behavior, but it was a striking event that made me think about the situation of black people in society.
As I have spent my days in Chicago, I have come to realize that racial gap between the majority and the minority is a severe problem in Chicago. When I was going around Hyde Park on my bicycle, I noticed that in the surrounding area, where the proportion of Black people seems very high, there are many heavy security gates for doors of shops and restaurants. This implies that theft crimes are more likely to occur there. On top of this, I realized that there are much fewer roadside trees and brush in that area than in Hyde Park, which means that the community has not received priority investment from the city government.
From the two stories in Chicago that I just mentioned, I assumed that disinvestment in city neighborhoods leads to poverty, which is often a root cause of violence.
As I did research on Black issues in Chicago, I was surprised by the fact that Chicago’s Black population is falling over decades, which is called Black exodus. The word “exodus” is taken from the Old Testament in reference to the Jews’ flight from Egypt. Definitely, I think it is a big problem because loss of population means loss of its culture.
According to the U.S. Census, Chicago’s black population peaked in 1980, and is declining steadily to 33% by 2020, despite a 1% increase of White population, and an 86% increase of Hispanic or Latino population, on the same timeframe.
The Census also indicates that Englewood, one of Chicago’s 77 community areas, where almost all of the population is Black, boasted a population of nearly 100,000 in 1960, but is now home to about 22,000 residents. It shows Black Americans have been moving, in huge numbers, out of their longtime homes in Northern and Western cities, and resettling in smaller cities, the suburbs and the South. A December 7th, 2021 article in Politico says that the Chicago Board of Education closed 50 schools in 2013 — the largest mass school closing in the nation’s history.
And what is more, Englewood is plagued by a lack of access to fresh and healthy grocery options. In May 2022, Whole Foods Market announced plans to close its store in Englewood, six years after opening the grocery store, leaving few healthy options. It is getting hard to prevent food deserts getting bigger.
Obviously, closing public schools and food markets will exacerbate a vicious cycle that continues to push out Chicago’s Black residents while failing to attract enough new ones. In addition, the remaining residents face seemingly unsolvable levels of street violence. According to Chicago Police Department data, neighborhoods like Englewood, which had the most homicides in the past 20 years (467 in this area alone), also had the greatest exodus of black residents.
Why is Black population declining? Black population trends in Chicago are associated with trends in levels of racial inequality, as indicated by racial disparities in unemployment and wages, according to “Between the Great Migration and Growing Exodus: The Future of Black Chicago” by the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Illinois Chicago. The report says that from 1990 through 2020, unemployment rates for black residents were around four times as high as they were for white residents. The wage gap between white and black residents has worsened each decade since 1980. These disparities have contributed to black out-migration.
But it is also a story of what happens to an area when people give up and walk away, and how that changes the surrounding city.
“It’s an American tragedy,” says the Reverend Marshall Hatch, a pastor on the West Side, who responded to New York Times interview on February 16th, 2020. He mentions that the legacy that the African-American community had in national politics, in culture, with blues and gospel and jazz, and sports, from Michael Jordan to Ernie Banks. He adds strongly, “Now African-American Chicago is being destroyed.”
As Hatch says, Black exodus means loss of its culture. And what is more, Black population loss is strongly associated with racial inequality, which will make the community quite unhealthy. It is not the problem of only Blacks, and every single person should think about how to prevent the sharp loss of the population of minority groups. We have to work hard to encourage better policies that create a welcoming city for all.
Thank you for listening.