During the 1960s and ’70s, academic liberals, civil rights advocates and others blamed the exodus on racism — “white flight” to the suburbs. However, since the ’70s, blacks have been fleeing some cities at higher rates than whites. It turns out that blacks, like whites, want better and safer schools for their kids and don’t like to be mugged or have their property vandalized. Just like white people, if they have the means, black people can’t wait for moving companies to move them out.
At the heart of big-city exoduses is a process that I call accumulative decay. When schools are rotten and unsafe, neighborhoods become run-down and unsafe, and city services decline, the first people to leave are those who care the most about good schools and neighborhood amenities and have the resources to move. As a result, cities lose their best and ablest people first. Those who leave the city for greener pastures tend to be replaced by people who don’t care so much about schools and neighborhood amenities or people who do care but don’t have the means to move anywhere else. Because the “best” people — those who put more into the city’s coffer than they take out in services — leave, politicians must raise taxes and/or permit city services to deteriorate. This sets up the conditions for the next round of people who can do better to leave. Businesses — which depend on these people, either as employees or as customers — also begin to leave. The typical political response to a declining tax base is to raise taxes even more and hence create incentives for more businesses and residents to leave. Of course, there’s also mayoral begging for federal and state bailouts.