Migration Southward and Westward is Picking up Again

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Article originally posted on HERE on May 10, 2017

LIKE birds, people tend to move from place to place along established routes. Since the second world war, among the most traveled of these routes in America has been from the “snow belt” in the Midwest and north-east to the “sun belt” in the south and west. The recession that began in 2007 knocked Americans off course for a while, and led to confident predictions that old cities would recover some of their population losses. But people have begun to head southward and westward again.

According to recently released estimates by the census bureau, Maricopa county in Arizona, which includes Phoenix and its suburbs, grew by 222 people a day on average in the year to July 2016. It overtook Harris county in Texas, home to Houston, as the county with the highest annual population growth. Cook county, which includes Chicago, saw the largest population fall in the same period, with a net loss of more than 21,000 people. Seven of America’s eight fastest-growing states are in the west. (In addition to Arizona, they are Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington; the eighth state is Florida.) Illinois, which contains Chicago, has lost more people than any other state for three years in a row.
People tend to move for work, says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a think-tank. In that respect the west scores highly: Arizona and Nevada are expected to have exceptionally high job growth this year. Mortgages have become easier to obtain in general, and the recovering housing market has enabled retirees to sell up and move to warmer places. Simple fashion plays a part, too: trendy cities like Austin, Denver and San Francisco are drawing many people between the ages of 25 and 35.


Another context is race. Blacks seem especially keen to leave Chicago, and the Midwest in general, for the southern states that many of their ancestors fled about a century ago. Mr Frey calls this “the great migration of blacks in reverse”. In 1970 the Chicago area had the second-largest black population in the country, with some 1.3m residents, more than double the black population of metropolitan Atlanta. Today more blacks live in and around Atlanta than Chicago. And the southern metropolis is much more racially mixed. According to the Urban Institute, a think-tank, Atlanta was the 41st most segregated of 100 large American metropolises in 2010 (down from 21st most segregated in 1990). Chicago ranked tenth.

“Blacks who live in only black areas do much worse in life,” says Edward Glaeser, an economist at Harvard University who specialises in cities. Schools in such areas tend to be poor—the quality of public schools in Chicago’s South Side, where many blacks live, ranges from poor to execrable. The Metropolitan Planning Council, a Chicago think-tank, estimates that regional GDP would be $8bn a year higher if Chicago were only as segregated as the average American metropolis. It is only an educated guess. That segregation is costly is, however, almost certain.

This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “Out of the frozen north”

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