Social Science History Seminar
This talk, which is based on my in-progress manuscript Competition in the Promised Land: Black Migrants in Northern Cities and Labor Markets, challenges the traditional view of the Great Black Migration as a general path for black economic progress. From 1940 to 1980, five million black migrants left the rural South, settling in the industrial cities of the North and West. Although migrants themselves benefited by leaving the low-wage South, the sustained migrant in-flow slowed black economic advancement in the North. Migration doubled the black labor force in the North, yet black workers were constrained to a limited set of "negro" jobs. Wages in these overcrowded occupations fell, limiting black wage growth and black–white wage convergence in the North. White workers were insulated from this labor market competition but vied with new black arrivals over urban space. I present the first systematic quantitative evidence that many white households responded to black arrivals by relocating to the suburbs. I argue that white flight was motivated not only by neighborhood dynamics but also by changes in city-level public goods, particularly after some cities were placed under court order to desegregate their schools by race.