D.C. Goes Black to White

D.C. White Influx

Starting around 1950 and continuing for decades, many major American cities saw white residents move away while African American populations rose. Concepts of white-flight and urban poverty came into being as affluence migrated outward to the suburbs. Many demographic changes over the last 15 years have begun to reverse many of these trends; urban crime rates are falling, property values are rising and people are sick of long commutes. At the forefront of these changes lies Washington D.C., a historically African American city that is now increasingly turning White.

Since the 1950's D.C. has been predominantly African American and has been known as a city of racial tension and division. For decades, affluent White Americans avoided living in the city and despite increasing numbers of African Americans, the city's population fell. I remember even as a kid in the early 1990's I was told that D.C. was not a nice place to be.

But right around the year 2000 something started to change. People actually started to want to live close to where they worked and did not want to spend hours each day in the car. Parents became sick of driving their kids everywhere and wished that things were within walking distance. Urban drug wars were finished and violent crime rates fell. Suburbanites began to move back into D.C. and property values started to rise quickly. For the first time in 50 years The District became "desirable" and Whites came back. The percentage of African Americans living in D.C. has fallen from around 70% in 1950 to just over 50% today.

Whites are moving in, but why are African Americans leaving? 

They cannot afford to stay. The income gap between White Americans and African Americans has largely held steady over time. Whites make about 70% more money than African Americans in America. A 70% decrease in income is enough to price almost anyone out of a gentrifying neighborhood. 

As you can see from the graph above, home prices skyrocketed after 2000 and in the following decade prices nearly tripled. Income certainly did not, especially not for African Americans. Nobody knows exactly what will happen over the next ten years, but we may actually start to see a full reversal. Suburbs may eventually be reserved for lower-income non-White groups while wealthy individuals mostly white will be concentrated in the urban core.