The persistent economic gap between Whites and Blacks is a deep-rooted problem dating back to the 1960’s when the U.S. Census Bureau began tracking these figures.  The unemployment rate for African-Americans stood at 10.4% in December, more than twice that of Whites, as it has been for most of the past 40 years.

Blacks’ real median household income ticked up to $34,598 in 2013, but that figure was roughly 59% that of Whites’, a ratio that has also not varied much since 1967.

Where African-Americans took a significant step back in recent years was in household wealth, which plunged 31% during the recession, including a steep 35% decline in their retirement assets, which the Urban Institute suggests was partially due to the unemployed drawing down savings to cover living expenses. The wealth of White families fell a comparatively mild 11% from 2007-10.

While economic condition vary widely between African Americans and White, the economic status of African Americans varies widely based on where they’re located within the country.  Forbes magazine took a look at America’s 52 largest metropolitan areas and determined the cities where African Americans are faring the best. 

They weighed the areas on three factors — homeownership, entrepreneurship, as measured by the self-employment rate, and median household income, factors they consider as indicators of middle-class success. In addition, they considered a fourth category, the growth or decline of African Americans in each of these cities.  Each factor was given equal weight.

Southern Exposure

After fleeing the south after the end of slavery, African Americans have reversed that trend.  The first measure of that trend showed up statistically in the 1970s.  Today, Dixie has emerged, in many ways, as the new promised land for African-Americans.  In the Forbes survey, the South accounts for a 13 of the top 15 metro areas for African Americans.

At the top of our list is Atlanta, long hailed as the unofficial capital of Black America. The city, which in the 1960s advertised itself as “the city too busy to hate,” has long lured ambitious African-Americans. With its well-established religious and educational institutions, notably Spelman and Morehouse, the area has a strong infrastructure for African-American advancement in the country.

Some 46.9% the metro area’s Black population owned their own homes as of 2013, well above the 38% major metro average for African-Americans. Atlanta’s African Americans have a median household income of $41,800, also considerably above the major metro average, while their rate of self-employment, 17.1%, is second only to New Orleans.

Clear evidence of the Atlanta area’s appeal can be seen in the growth of the Black population, up 50% from 2000 through 2013. This is also well above the of 28% average growth in the African-American population in the nation’s 52 biggest metro areas during the same time.

This shift of African-Americans to Southern metro areas is widespread. Population growth since 2000 above 40% was posted by No. 2 metro area Raleigh, N.C.; Charlotte, N.C. (sixth); Orlando (seventh) as well as the three cities that tie for eighth place: Miami; Richmond, Va.; and San Antonio. The same can be said of Texas’ other big cities: Austin (11th), Houston (12th) and Dallas-Fort Worth (13th).

If there’s a challenger to Atlanta and the renewed Southern ascendency for African-Americans, it’s the greater Washington, D.C., area which ranks third. The median Black household income in the metro area is $64,896, more than $20,000 above that of Atlanta and other top-ranked southern cities. Home ownership rates, at 49.2%, are also the highest in the nation.

As in Atlanta, Washington’s Black community has strong institutions of culture and higher education. The District is home to Howard University, the nation’s second-ranked historically Black university. Washington’s urban core may be becoming less Black — down from 60% in 2000 to under 50% in 2013– but this has been more than made up for by the burgeoning population of surrounding suburban areas such as Prince George’s County, which is majority Black and relatively prosperous, with poverty rates well below those of the city. The key plus here appears to be the the federal government, which employs many people at high wages in the area.

Incomes also have been boosted by the government in No. 4 Baltimore, which enjoys the third highest Black median income and the third highest self-employment rate after Atlanta and New Orleans. As in Washington, much of this prosperity is not in the hardscrabble city core, but in surrounding suburban areas such as Baltimore County.  

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