“Black flight” rises along with “white flight”

I’m going to be writing a lot in upcoming columns and blog posts about the recently released census data for 2010. In my City Talk column this Tuesday, I’ll have something to say about the increase in the residential vacancy rate over the past decade.

But there are many other micro and macro trends worth examining, and one of the most interesting ongoing demographic trends is the increasing number of blacks moving to suburban areas in the South, which largely thrived in recent decades because of “white flight” from urban areas.

Theories explaining the trend point legitimately to issues of crime and education — families that want the best for their children are always going to be tempted to flee the former and chase the latter. There’s also the more nebulous theory of “the American dream.” But I think there’s something else at play here too: at the federal, state, and local levels, less densely populated areas almost always receive disproportionately high per capita government spending compared to more densely populated urban areas. We have also gone to great lengths to subsidize suburbia through the mortgage interest deduction and more recently with programs like the USDA’s home loan program to help prop up “rural” areas. I put “rural” in quotes because here in Savannah those areas included anything west of I-95 — it’s laughable that that wide swath of suburbia would benefit from a federal program aimed at supporting true rural areas.

More on that later. For now, here are three articles that deal with the racial shift we’re now witnessing.

In today’s Savannah Morning News, by Larry Peterson: “Hispanics pace population growth in Savannah as whites and blacks trickle away”. Larry writes: “Last year’s once-a-decade head count revealed the Hostess City’s population grew to 136,286 — up 3,321 — but lost 1,632 whites and 169 blacks. Meanwhile, its Hispanic population more than doubled to 6,392 and the city added almost 700 Asian Americans and nearly 900 people who claim more than one ethnicity.”

He continues:

But in Chatham County overall, most newcomers have been on the west side, where there’s been room to grow. Pooler is the poster child; its population nearly tripled to 19,140.

“Nobody should be surprised,” said Robert Eisinger, a political science professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design. “We’ve seen earlier census estimates, and you see it when you drive out that way. You see the new subdivisions and shopping centers.”

More than 62 percent of Pooler’s people are white.

But its black population jumped more than nine-fold to 25 percent. And Pooler’s Hispanic population — near 7 percent — is almost 15 times what it was in 2000. But about half of the additional people are white.

“It’s the American dream,” Eisinger said, noting that home prices in much of Pooler are relatively affordable. “People want a big yard and they move.”

There’s a great AP piece about similar trends across the South:

African Americans in the South are shunning city life for the suburbs at the highest levels in decades, rapidly integrating large metropolitan areas that were historically divided between inner-city blacks and suburban whites.

Some interesting speculation by Kyle Wingfield about the possible decline in “identity politics” because of these trends and the likelihood that many of those new suburbanites of color will eventually vote Republican:

Traffic, zoning fights and the other issues that accompany the kind of rapid growth seen in Atlanta’s suburbs are all color-blind.

While many minority voters accustomed to picking Democrats will stick to that habit, at least for a while, people ultimately vote their interests. The Democratic Party traditionally has aligned itself with many of the interests of urban minorities. But when those voters move to the ’burbs, they may well decide that the GOP offers better solutions to the different problems they find there.

If so, whole blocs of voters may be newly open to ideas they didn’t embrace before. Either way, a lessening of the usual identity politics will be good for us all.