Last year, unarmed teenager Michael Brown was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. The incident drew attention to racially charged police brutality, and sparked outrage nationwide. Fatal police shootings involving black citizens, however, are only one of the consequences of racial inequality.
For decades, black Americans have faced higher poverty rates, lower incomes and higher incarceration rates than white Americans. While African Americans in every U.S. city face such problems, racial inequality is much worse in some parts of the country. By examining the disparities between white and black Americans in several economic and social measures, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 worst cities for black Americans.
Four of the cities with the worst racial inequality are in Illinois, two are in Iowa, and all are in the Midwest. 24/7 Wall St. interviewed Valerie Wilson, director of the program on race, ethnicity, and the economy at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a progressive think tank. Wilson associated the geographical clustering of these cities to the Great Migration — the relocation of millions of African Americans from the South to cities in the North and Midwest between 1916 and 1970.
Over that period, African Americans fled from the oppressive Jim Crow policies of the South, among other forms of racism, to cities such as Chicago and New York. These areas — the Midwest in particular — were undergoing a manufacturing boom at the time, and black and other Americans sought economic opportunities there. However, the industrial Midwestern economies have declined dramatically since 1970, and the region today is a part of what is commonly known as the Rust Belt.
> Pct. residents black:16.8%
> Population: 9,553,810
> Black median household income as pct. of white: 50.1%
> Black unemployment rate: 18.5%
> Unemployment rate, all people: 7.0%
Slightly more than 7% of white Chicago area residents live in poverty, while the poverty rate for the city’s black population is nearly 30%. Similarly, while 43.7% of white adults had at least a college degree, 21.8% of black adult Chicagoans were college educated. In addition to socioeconomic racial disparities, black area residents had far higher mortality rates compared to white residents. The Chicago metro area black population leads the nation with 1,550 deaths per 100,000 African Americans in a year, versus the mortality rate for white Chicagoans of 713 per 100,000 white people.
Chicago is one of the nation’s most diverse cities. It is also one of the nation’s most segregated, however, and in the city’s neighborhoods there is little racial diversity. Wilson explained that outcomes worsen for anyone — black or white — living under poor socioeconomic conditions. However, she added, not only do black urban dwellers suffer more under such conditions, but also racial inequality and segregation are themselves harmful to communities.
The manufacturing industries in those areas offered relatively well-paying jobs to relatively uneducated people — many of whom were African American. As Wilson explained, “those industries have essentially dried up, and the opportunities are no longer there, but the people still are.”
These Midwestern cities have relatively small black populations. Compared to the national proportion, relatively few black people live in seven of the 10 worst cities for African Americans. Though small, these proportions still represent tens of thousands of people. Wilson explained that in cities with smaller minority populations, African Americans can actually suffer more at the hands of structural racism than in cities with larger black populations. The smaller group is almost always easier to exclude.