Did Welfare Reform Cause “Black Flight”?

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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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]