Did Welfare Reform Cause “Black Flight”?

Mickey’s Assignment Desk: Walter Russell Mead sees the flight of blacks from Northern and Midwestern cities to suburbs in the South as a repudiation of the liberal “blue state” social model (unionism, regulation, taxes). Which it may well be. But there’s another angle: the 1996 welfare reform, and the message it sent. Working hypothesis: Welfare–specifically the old AFDC program–in essence told blacks in the North it was OK to stay put in their declining former ghetto communities. If people stayed, instead of moving in search of jobs, the checks would keep coming.  The ’96 Clinton/Gingrich reform said: don’t count on welfare to be there for you. It is time-limited. You’ll have to work. If there are no jobs where you live, better move somewhere else. Result: Blacks moved to where the jobs are, which is the red states and the suburbs. … Problem with working hypothesis: Is it black middle class that’s moving? If so, how are they on welfare? Possible answers to problem: Welfare’s penetration of the African-American community is easy to underestimate. According to a startling statistic from the Panel Study on Income Dynamics (publicized, if I remember, by Daniel Patrick Moynihan) almost three-quarters of black children who turned 18 in the late 1980s had spent at least a year on AFDC. Given the tremendous exposure of the black community to welfare, a change in its requirements could send a powerful cultural signal. Plus, tipping point! … And kids who might in earlier decades have fallen back on welfare knew it wasn’t going to be there and made other, better choices. … Also, not all those who moved were “middle class” as opposed to hard up.  … Alternative, nastier, Charles Murrayesque theory: Food stamps are the new welfare–they’re the only cash or cash-like entitlement the poor can count on. But they are set at a uniform level nationwide, and it’s not a wildly generous level. Might as well move to where living costs are lower. If you read Nicholas Lemann’s Promised Land, you know that an African American food stamp economy was already growing up in the South decades ago, so there may be something to this. … There are lots of other factors of course, many of them mentioned in the NYT‘s account: A decline of white racism in the South, cultural affinities, including a desire to be in communities where the bosses and elites are also African American, a flight from crime and lousy schools. Also, blacks were basically doing what everyone else was doing between 2000 and 2010 (though everyone else moved to the West as well as the South, apparently). The difference is blacks hadn’t done that before (e.g. in the 60s, 70s. 80s and 90s). … [via Newsalert, @TomBevanRCP]

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  • Murgatroyd

    According to a startling statistic from the Panel Study on Income Dynamics (publicized, if I remember, by Daniel Patrick Moynihan) almost three-quarters of black children who turned 18 in the late 1980s had spent at least a year on AFDC.

    An absolutely meaningless statistic unless you assume that middle-class black families have just as many children as black families on AFDC.

    Take two families, any color: one on welfare with six kids (and most likely, no father), and one middle-class, not on welfare, with two. Six kids of the total of eight are on welfare! Are three-quarters of the families on welfare?

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  • ChickFight

    I work in the criminal justice system in an urban area, so the defendants are most often Black and Hispanic. I can tell you that after ten years in this ugly business the self destructive mindset is still pervasive. However, the nature of the crimes have changed slightly. While the majority of cases have to do with territorial gang violence, robberies and stupid bar fights over nothing, are now more often about targeting young black and Hispanic men who’ve attempted to leave that life through education, work and/or marriage. A college graduate in the ghetto isn’t a hero to his peers – he’s a target. One fairly recent case involved a young man who was celebrating his graduation after achieving a degree in electrical engineering; he was murdered that very evening at his own party. Another 22 year old graduate and job seeker was shot while simply standing outside the office building where he’d just been interviewed. Another young Latina was shot in her own home while studying for her SATs. This is all within the last two years and there’s many more such cases. Breaking the mold is only the first leg of the struggle to elevate oneself, the second is moving far away from the ghetto. It’s not as easy as it sounds and it has nothing to do with money. It’s about leaving friends and family and escaping the thugs who want to drag you down, and may even follow you to your new destination. Too bad we don’t have a President who understands this horrific phenom in the urban community. But at least the First Lady wants urban kids to be slender when they get shot.

  • Klejdys

    Kaus hits some good points (as usual). Worth reading Steve Sailer’s take on it as well:


    Dunblak, above, may have some personal experience with some of the middle class black migration, but I am skeptical of drawing any larger conclusions from it (strong fiscal conservatives?!? socialist path? Blacks voted for Obama at a rate > 97% in 2008. That number won’t go down much in 2012, either.)

  • dunblak

    Most Blacks in the upper midwest left the south after the depression more for job opportunities than to escape racism. They found deeper prejudice, albeit subtle, in the north, and when the jobs ceased to be available, why not return home? Many of them, now retired with generous pension plans, can enjoy a quality of life only dreamed of by an earlier generation. Because they were productive citizens they raised their children with ambition and values and had no intention of maintaining a lifestyle amidst gang warfare, drugs, and violent crime. Yes, they are moving south and they are building homes and buying farms across South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. They are embracing the traditional values that can no longer be found in the rust belt, nor in the current Democratic Party. It may be that Atlanta, Birmingham, Jackson, and New Orleans will get the dregs of the druggies and food stamp recipients. But the returnees I have met are confident, responsible people who have found more racial harmony in the south than ever existed in the industrial north and they are strong fiscal conservatives. It doesn’t look good for those who are trying to move this country on a socialist path.