There was a time when even more African Americans lived in urban areas: After the Great Migration, many blacks moved north for job opportunities. They were relegated to urban cores because they weren’t allowed to live anywhere else; policies such as redlining meant that they could only buy homes in certain neighborhoods, usually the places whites no longer wanted to live. In 1990, 57 percent of blacks lived in central cities, and 95 percent of blacks in the Northeast, Midwest, and West lived in metropolitan areas, according to Census data.
That has slowly been changing. Today, the majority—52 percent— of African Americans in the nation’s top 100 metro areas live in the suburbs of those regions, according to Kneebone. In 2000, the majority— 55 percent—of African Americans in the 100 largest metro areas lived in the big cities that anchor those regions.
There are plenty of reasons that the distribution of where African Americans live has changed. As Millennials and Baby Boomers move back to urban cores, they’re pushing out longtime African American residents. Often, those residents end up in inner ring suburbs, where housing is cheaper, but where there are fewer services and opportunities for employment.
Many middle-class African Americans, priced out of cities such as San Francisco and New York, are moving to Sun Belt areas such as Phoenix and San Antonio. Between 2010 and 2015, the black population of the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale metropolitan area grew 17.9 percent. The black population of the San Antonio metropolitan area also grew 17.9 percent, according to Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Among the other fastest-growing cities for African Americans were Austin, Orlando, Las Vegas, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Dallas. Cities such as Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, and Cleveland were the cities that lost the highest share of the black population between 2010 and 2015. Renn and other scholars call this “The Great Remigration.”
“Much like the white population who moved to suburbs in search of the American dream: the white picket fence, better schools, no surprise; black families want to own a home and have good schools too,” Renn said. “They’re often choosing to live in suburban environments.”
To be sure, just because African Americans live in the suburbs doesn’t mean they’re no longer poor; as Kneebone has written about, suburban poverty is a growing problem. But it’s important to note that the majority of African Americans aren’t living in poverty today, either. Nationally, 27 percent of African Americans are living in poverty. That’s still very high, compared to the overall poverty rate of 14.8 percent, but it also means that 73 percent of African Americans live above the poverty line. In suburbs, the poverty rate for African Americans is even lower, according to Kneebone: 20 percent.